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ETAN Urges Visiting Australian Prime Minister to Follow Rule of Law in Talks with E Timor

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  • John M Miller
    Timor Network Urges Visiting Australian Prime Minister to Follow Rule of Law in Talks with East Timor June 3, 2004 - The East Timor Action Network (ETAN) today
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 3, 2004
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      Timor Network Urges Visiting Australian Prime Minister to Follow Rule of
      Law in Talks with East Timor

      June 3, 2004 - The East Timor Action Network (ETAN) today urged Australia’s
      Prime Minister John Howard to allow East Timor a fair opportunity to
      achieve economic independence by developing its own natural resources. The
      Prime Minister is visiting Washington this week.

      “While Australia welcomed East Timor into the community of independent
      nations two years ago, the Australian government continues to obstruct the
      new country’s efforts to define a fair maritime boundary in the Timor Sea.
      Meanwhile, Australia extracts billions of dollars worth of oil and gas from
      disputed undersea territory,” said John M. Miller, spokesperson for ETAN.
      “We urge Prime Minister Howard to respect his new neighbor’s sovereignty by
      participating in good-faith efforts to resolve the boundary dispute quickly
      and legally.”

      In March, more than 50 members of the U.S. House of Representatives wrote
      to Prime Minister Howard, encouraging Australia to “to move seriously and
      expeditiously in negotiations with East Timor to establish a fair,
      permanent maritime boundary and an equitable sharing of oil and gas
      resources in the Timor Sea.”

      In his reply, Mr. Howard wrote that “Australia is committed to doing what
      we can to help East Timor on its road to stable, democratic governance.”
      Nevertheless, Mr. Howard declined to “set an end date for negotiations.” In
      addition, he rejected the Representatives’ strong suggestion that “any
      revenue from disputed areas on East Timor's side of the median line but
      outside the Joint Petroleum Development Area defined in the Timor Sea
      Treaty be held in escrow until a permanent boundary is established” by
      stating that “Australia has exercised jurisdiction in these areas for an
      extensive period of time.”

      “This claimed jurisdiction is based on an illegitimate treaty with
      Indonesia, illegally signed while Indonesia brutally occupied East Timor,”
      said Miller. “The East Timorese and their friends thought that the violent
      withdrawal of Indonesian troops in 1999 was the end of foreign occupation
      of their territory. Australia should be ashamed to continue to profit from
      this occupation. Prime Minister John Howard betrays Australians’ sense of
      fair play and legality when he justifies today’s continuing occupation by
      citing Australian complicity with Indonesia’s brutal invasion.”

      Prime Minister Howard is visiting Washington this week, and met with
      President Bush today to discuss Iraq and the new Australia-U.S. Free Trade
      Agreement, among other topics.

      “We wonder if the two leaders discussed how their nations can set a good
      example by following the rule of law, especially in relation to smaller,
      weaker, less affluent nations just developing their democratic traditions,”
      said Miller.

      Background

      Substantial oil and natural gas deposits lie under the Timor Sea between
      Australia and East Timor. The fate of tens of billions of dollars of
      revenue depends on a permanent boundary agreement. Where neighboring claims
      overlap, as is the case with East Timor and Australia, countries must
      negotiate a permanent maritime boundary, usually halfway between their
      coastlines. If both sides approach the issue in good faith, such agreements
      usually take 2-3 years to negotiate.

      Two months before East Timor achieved independence in May 2002, Australia
      formally withdrew from international legal mechanisms - the International
      Court of Justice and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea -
      for resolving maritime boundary issues that cannot be settled by
      negotiation. Mari Alkatiri, East Timor's soon-to-be Prime Minister, called
      this withdrawal an "unfriendly" act. The withdrawal has prevented the new
      nation from employing third-party arbitration to encourage Australia to
      approach this issue in a timely and cooperative manner.

      In October 2002, East Timor enacted a Maritime Boundary Law, claiming a 200
      nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone, based on the United Nations
      Convention on the Law of the Sea. At the same time, East Timor’s Prime
      Minister asked his Australian counterpart to begin negotiations. The first
      round of talks was held a year later, the second round in April 2004.
      Neither meeting made significant progress, although East Timor asked for
      monthly talks both times, and Australia has refused to meet more than twice
      per year.

      East Timor is among the world's poorest countries, with low levels of basic
      services and high unemployment. Its government’s annual budget of around US
      $85 million has come largely from donors during the past few years. The new
      nation is currently trying to avoid borrowing from international financial
      institutions, as it faces a projected US$30 million budget deficit between
      2005 and 2007. Yet between 1999 and today, the Australian government has
      taken in more than US$1 billion in oil and gas revenues from petroleum
      fields that are twice as close to East Timor as they are to Australia, and
      which would belong to East Timor under a fair boundary settlement.

      In the first substantive round of negotiations in late April, Australia’s
      stonewalling did not change.

      After those talks, the United Nations Secretary-General reported that “the
      possibilities for Timor-Leste’s future political development and social
      progress are indissolubly linked with its economic prospects. Progress
      towards agreement between Australia and Timor-Leste for development of the
      mineral resources in the Timor Sea, in a mutually beneficial manner,
      through full commitment of the leadership of the countries involved, would
      make an essential contribution in this regard.”

      In March 2004, Representative Barney Frank and 52 others wrote to Mr.
      Howard, concluding that, “We trust your country's commitment to the freedom
      and security of East Timor will include recognition of East Timor's
      territorial integrity and its right to a swift, permanent resolution of the
      maritime boundary dispute.” In early April, more than one thousand East
      Timorese demonstrated in front of the Australian Embassy in Dili, calling
      for Australia to end its occupation of the Timor Sea and stop stealing East
      Timor’s oil. East Timor’s leaders, including President Xanana Gusmão and
      Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri, made similar requests, and pointed out that
      this is a life and death issue for the people of East Timor.

      Report language accompanying the Senate Foreign Operations Appropriations
      bill in July 2003 stated, "The Committee is aware of negotiations between
      East Timor and Australia over petroleum reserves, which will be of critical
      importance to the future economic development and security of East Timor.
      The Committee urges both governments to engage in good faith negotiations
      to resolve their maritime boundary expeditiously in accordance with
      international legal principles."

      The East Timor Action Network/U.S. supports human dignity for the people of
      East Timor by advocating for democracy; sustainable development; social,
      legal and economic justice; and human rights, including women's rights. For
      more info see www.etan.org.
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      John M. Miller Internet: fbp@...

      Media & Outreach Coordinator
      East Timor Action Network: 12 Years for Self-Determination & Justice

      48 Duffield St., Brooklyn, NY 11201 USA
      Phone: (718)596-7668 Fax: (718)222-4097
      Mobile phone: (917)690-4391
      Web site: http://www.etan.org

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