Subject: RA: Domestic concern over Timor Sea Agreement

Radio Australia 17/6/2002

EAST TIMOR: Domestic concern over Timor Sea Agreement

The Timor Sea Agreement between Dili and Canberra, is due to be ratified by the East Timorese parliament soon. However, the looming ratification is causing serious unrest among MPs and other groups in East Timor, mainly over a perceived lack of consultation by Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri in negotiations for the treaty.

Presenter/Interviewer: Fernando de Freitas, Darwin

Speakers: Helder da Costa, Director of the National Research Centre at East Timor's National University; Eusebio Guterres, MP from East Timor's Democratic Party

DE FREITAS: It's been dubbed as the conference that will determine the Northern Territory's future. Chief Minister Claire Martin arm in arm with East Timor's Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri about to address an awaiting media during the annual South East Asia Australia Offshore conference, being held in Darwin.

ALKATIRI: Claire's a very important person, a very importance precedent.

DE FREITAS: Both were in an upbeat mood with the topic of the Timor Sea agreement foremost in the line of questioning.

ALKATIRI: As soon as the internal procedures of the parliament is adopted, then the parliament can really start working on the treaty. But that is only one or two weeks from now.

DE FREITAS: But Mr Alkatiri's optimism is far from the reality back home where there is growing opposition to the agreement according to Helder da Costa, Director of the National Research Centre at East Timor's National University.

DA COSTA: There is a lot of growing concern, the people, including the university, the NGOs, and also from some representatives here, they've all expressed their concern of not having this kind of transparency in terms of the Timor Sea agreement. The parliament so far is not fully briefed, so the parliament has started to demand that the government present a full view before they take any further actions.

DE FREITAS: This growing concern was evident over the weekend with the protest of over 300 Timorese outside the new parliament. It included members of leading NGOs, which have started a public campaign against the ratification of the Timor Sea agreement. The protestors also included members of at least six of the 13 political parties, according to Eusebio Guterres from one of the main opposition parties, the Democratic Party, at least 30 members of parliament are now opposed and the number is rising. He says there's great confusion about the process.

GUTERRES: In the constitution yes there are modifications. How many members are voting, how many can pass the modification, that's not clear. So that's why I really strongly want to suggest that we adopt a ruling procedure. I will write my proposal for that.

DE FREITAS: The Democratic Party is about to put forward a motion that ratification require two-thirds majority, but it is unlikely that leading party Fretilin will allow the motion to pass. President Xanana Gusmao has so far remained silent on the issue, but according to Eusebio Guterres the President is also very concerned.

GUTERRES: The President says now we have to review the treaty, not to ratify, not to sign.

DE FREITAS: So you're saying that President Xanana Gusmao is against this arrangement that's been agreed to by Australia and East Timor?

GUTERRES: Of course, of course.

DE FREITAS: Well he hasn't said that?

GUTERRES: Yes I know but this is for our national interest. So he has not not publicly said so I know. But I already met Xanana in the last couple of weeks, Xanana feels like that. I know nothing about East Timor gap.

DA COSTA: Well this is why the role of the president is going to be tested, maybe in the not too distant future Mr Xanana will probably step in and start saying a few words on this particular issue because he himself also would like to say a few words on East Timor gap because I would say that it will reach a point, a key point that everybody should deserve better information and better transparency here.

DE FREITAS: But speaking in Darwin Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri who has been the driving force in the negotiations rejects the criticism.

ALKATIRI: It's not true. When the treaty was initialed on July the 5th last year, Xanana was there. Xanana was always informed during the negotiations, Xanana is aware of the treaty, was always aware of the terms of the treaty.

DA COSTA: It could be creating public outrage by the people of East Timor, I wouldn't be surprised if things like this will erupt in the future.

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