Subject: Timor Leste-RI Maritime Boundary Needs to Be Prioritized [JP Op-Ed]

The Jakarta Post Thursday, August 3, 2006


Settling the maritime boundary with neighbor Timor Leste

I Made Andi Arsana, Yogyakarta

The world was watching when increasingly violent demonstrations wracked Dili, East Timor, a few months ago. The violence, which killed a significant number of people, made news headlines across the world. Then, last month, Mari Alkatiri stepped down as prime minister and was replaced with Jose Ramos Horta. This was very big news from the world's youngest nation.

This article, however, looks more at the relationship between Indonesia and East Timor after the riots. In particular, issues concerning maritime boundaries between the two states, which had not been negotiated at the time of writing.

It might not be the right time to talk about maritime boundaries while East Timor is struggling with other big problems. Similarly, Indonesia is also very busy responding to natural disasters in many regions of the country. However, the maritime boundary issue is there to solve. Maritime boundary delimitation should be a pressing concern for the two countries as the boundaries deal with sovereignty and the sovereign rights of the two neighboring states.

With regards to land boundary, Indonesia and East Timor signed a preliminary agreement on April 2005, in which around 96 percent (in terms of length) of land boundary had been resolved. Due to the incompleteness of land boundary, maritime boundary delimitation could not be started because the end points of land boundary (termini) will serve as the starting points of maritime boundary. No maritime boundary line can be drawn if the starting points have not been officially agreed.

Meanwhile, some preliminary studies concerning possible maritime boundary delimitation between Indonesia and East Timor have been conducted by non-governmental organizations, research agencies and academic institutions.

The Indonesian and East Timorese governments have also conducted research to anticipate the possible delimitation between them. With regards to research conducted by independent parties, the results are only an opinion that might be considered in the real negotiation process between Indonesia and East Timor. In the end, it is up to the Indonesian and East Timorese delegates to find the most equitable solution.

Earlier research, done by some scholars, revealed that there are three potential locations for maritime boundaries for Indonesia and East Timor. The three locations are the Ombai Strait, the Wetar Strait and the Timor Sea.

The Ombai Strait is a maritime area to the north of Oecussi. Oecussi is part of East Timor, which is geographically located in the western part of Timor Island (Indonesia), approximately seventy kilometers west of East Timor proper.

The Wetar Strait is situated between East Timor proper and Indonesia's Pulau Wetar and Pulau Alor. The boundary in the Wetar Strait seems to be reasonably complicated due to the existence of Pulau Atauro roughly in the middle of the strait.

The last location for a maritime boundary between Indonesia and East Timor is in the Timor Sea where two lateral maritime boundary lines need to be drawn: western segment and eastern segment. Maritime boundaries in the Timor Sea seem to be the most complicated boundaries due to the existence of some maritime agreements between Indonesia and Australia and between Australia and East Timor, which must be taken into account.

Concerning maritime boundary negotiations between Australia and East Timor, a "long and winding" road has been faced. Key issues of contention were, unsurprisingly, the precise dimensions of revenue sharing from the Timor Sea and also the issue of gas processing, particularly whether the gas from the Greater Sunrise field should be piped to Dili or Darwin.

However, in the first semester of 2005 East Timor and Australia made good progress, with a draft agreement being agreed in May 2005. This eventually culminated in the signature of the Treaty on Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea (CMATS) on Jan. 12, 2006.

It is worth noting that the agreement reached by Australia and East Timor was not to delimit maritime boundaries in the Timor Sea but to defer the disputed portion of the boundary for 50 years. As highlighted by the CIA, this might, to an extent, hamper the creation of a maritime boundary in the Timor Sea with Indonesia. This particular issue should have been part of the critical study carried out by Indonesia and East Timor in preparing maritime boundary negotiations.

Regardless of how difficult the delimitation is, it is evident that unresolved maritime boundaries can cause uncertainty, which could possibly lead to an international dispute. Indonesia and East Timor should have learned from some earlier experiences of other countries, which indicated how important maritime boundaries are.

Indonesia for its side has made significant efforts to prepare for negotiations with East Timor. As a coastal state with 10 potential maritime boundaries, Indonesia can be considered as one of the most productive countries with regards to maritime boundary agreement. However, people are now waiting to see how Indonesia and East Timor will negotiate to establish an equitable solution for maritime boundaries for both sides.

The author is a lecturer in the Department of Geodetic and Geomatic Engineering, Gadjah Mada University. His interest is in maritime boundary issues and he can be contacted at

------------------------------------------ Joyo Indonesia News Service

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