Subject: AFP: E Timor asks Germany to lobby Canberra on gas deal

Last Update: Sunday, February 6, 2005. 6:33am (AEDT)

E Timor asks Germany to lobby Canberra on gas deal

East Timorese Foreign Minister Jose Ramos-Horta says he is confident a deal can soon be struck with Australia over billions of dollars in revenues from disputed oil and gas fields, and has asked international allies to turn up the pressure on Canberra.

After talks with his German counterpart Joschka Fischer, Dr Ramos-Horta told reporters that a resolution on the resources dispute was within reach following a recent flurry of dialogue between Australia and its impoverished neighbour.

"I'm reasonably, prudently optimistic that we can reach an agreement in the next few months," he said.

"Bearing in mind that geographically, the oil and gas is two-thirds closer to East Timor than to Australia, bearing in mind that Australia is 100 times richer than East Timor, we would hope that Australia, inspired by a sense of justice, fairness, would offer East Timor a very reasonable package."

East Timor is counting on the development of the $5 billion Greater Sunrise oil and gas project in the Timor Sea as a major source of income.

But it became bogged down in a complex dispute between Dili and Canberra over royalties and maritime boundaries.

Dr Ramos-Horta says East Timor is prepared to put aside the latter issue in the interest of a preliminary accord.

The 1996 Nobel peace laureate says he asked Mr Fischer to take up the issue when he meets his Australian counterpart Alexander Downer and Prime Minister John Howard in Canberra on Monday.

Germany, a major donor to East Timor's reconstruction, is only the second country after Portugal to send its foreign minister to East Timor, which became an independent state in 2002 after more than two decades of struggle against Indonesian rule.

Mr Fischer is on a nine-day tour of the region to assess Germany's tsunami relief efforts and promote Berlin's bid for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.

Dr Ramos-Horta says he supports Germany's ambition but hopes a reform of the Security Council will also include at least four permanent members from Asia including Indonesia.

Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States currently have permanent berths.

He says East Timor also needs Germany's support in extending part of the United Nations mission in the country, due to run out in May.

Dr Ramos-Horta says that the country can withstand a pull-out by peacekeepers but still needs about 200 unarmed UN military observers and civil society advisers for another 12 months to assure stability.

"Any sudden departure of everybody in May could seriously disrupt the normal functioning of some of these institutions of the state. I am confident that the permanent members of the (UN Security) Council and others will agree to continue a UN presence," he said.

Mr Fischer says Germany will "seriously consider" voting for the extension of the UN mission, despite the up to $40 million price tag.

"If it can contribute to the development of the economy and the democracy of your country, I think it would be an excellent investment," he said.


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