|Subject: Workers Online: East Timor appeals
for help on Timor Gap
East Timor appeals for help to defend self-determination
By HT Lee
At midnight on Sunday 19 May, the UN mandate in East Timor comes to an end and East Timor becomes a new independent nation. This should be a time for joy and celebrations-the heralding in of the rebirth of a nation that the international committee ignored for 24 years. Howard, Downer and other international dignitaries will be there-patting themselves on the back for a job well done-but there will be no mention or whisper of their 24 years of collective silence.
Lurking behind the scene will be the faceless men and women who have helped draft the Timor Sea Arrangement (TSA), that will be the first act the in-coming East Timor Prime Minister Alkatiri will sign on 20 May and turn it into a treaty. And as that happens, these faceless men and women-just like former Australian and Indonesian foreign ministers-Evans and Ali Alatas, and their entourage in another event back in 1989-will click their champagne glasses-this time not in a plane over the Timor Sea, but on land at ground zero, in Dili itself. However, the end result is the same-the treaty conducted in secrecy and behind closed doors by only a handful of people-will cost East Timor billions of dollars in lost revenue and thousands of much needed jobs.
East Timorese opposition MPs, local NGOs and organisations including La'o Hamutuk-The East Timor Institute for Reconstruction Monitoring and Analysis, have sent out an urgent appeal to the international solidarity movement to defend East Timor's ongoing struggle for self-determination. In the editorial of its latest bulletin, La'o Hamutuk sums up the situation:
'La'o Hamutuk calls upon the Australian government to demonstrate its commitment to the rule of law and to agree to maritime boundaries through internationally recognised legal channels. At the same time, we call upon the pro-East Timor sectors of Australian civil society and the international solidarity movement to be vigilant and active in defending East Timor's interests. The contest over the resources of the Timor Gap is a crucial battle in East Timor's ongoing struggle for self-determination. Canberra played a significant role in derailing East Timorese political independence from 1975 to 1999. As East Timor's independence is now imminent, Australia cannot be allowed to undermine the new country's future.'
Opposition MP Eusebio Guterres and his colleagues had requested Alkatiri to front up to East Timor's Constitutional Assembly (which will become the new parliament) on two occasions to explain and disclose the contents of Alkatiri's latest negotiation with Australia. Eusebio and at least 26 out of the 88 members of the assembly want to delay the ratification for at least six months-to set up a parliamentary committee to investigate all aspects of the draft agreement before voting on it.
However, Alkatiri has refused to address them and has told them he won't disclose the contents of the treaty to be signed on Monday 20 May, until after the signing. He dismissed them as a bunch of minority opposition members.
Alkatiri told a journalist at a recent press conference in Dili: 'If I sign the treaty, parliament will endorse and ratify it.' Alkatiri intends to use his numbers in Fretelin to ram through the treaty in parliament. And if this happens East Timor's parliament will just becomes nothing more than a rubber stamp-not a very good start for a fledging democracy.
It is interesting to note that people like Eusebio and his colleagues who were forced to work in secrecy and involved in clandestine activities during the Indonesian occupation now want openness and accountability whereas those who were abroad-such as Alkatiri who had the luxury of working quite openly-now indulge themselves in secrecy and work behind closed doors.
Howard faces 'theft' claims over Timor Sea oil
By Tom Hyland Foreign Editor
Prime Minister John Howard has rejected suggestions that Australia has treated East Timor unfairly in negotiations over the carve-up of rich oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea.
Mr Howard, who attended the fledgling nation's independence celebrations last night, declared that Australia's role in securing East Timor in 1999 was its most notable foreign policy achievement in recent years.
But at a news conference he was forced to defend Australia's tactics in negotiating the Timor Sea Treaty, which will be signed today in one of the first acts of the independent East Timorese Government.
He was confronted by about 150 protesters carrying banners displaying the words "Australia, stop stealing Timor's oil" when he arrived to open an Australian-funded exhibition centre in Dili.
The treaty carves up shares to revenue from energy sources in the Timor Sea off north-western Australia. Under the deal, East Timor will get 90 per cent of the revenue from a joint development zone, with Australia getting 10 per cent.
Despite the apparently generous division, negotiations over the treaty have been marked by accusations that Australia has effectively denied East Timor the right to pursue claims to a greater share in the joint zone and elsewhere in the Timor Sea.
Oil and gas revenue is essential to the economic future of East Timor. The money will allow it to fund its budget without foreign aid by the middle of this decade.
In the longer term, the benefits will be much greater. Revenue from the Bayu-Udan oil and gas field is expected to be more than $US3 billion ($A5.4 billion) over the next 20 years.
UN officials and local politicians have accused Australia of taking advantage of East Timor's economic and strategic vulnerability in pressing for an early signing of the treaty.
It has also been criticised for its sudden announcement in March that it will no longer accept the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice in maritime boundary disputes - cutting off East Timor's avenue of appeal following legal opinion that its entitlements are potentially far greater than those given under the treaty.
Last month East Timor's Chief Minister, Mari Alkatiri, described the Australian decision as an "unfriendly act".
However, Mr Howard said Australia had been "extremely accommodating and fair to East Timor and it's important that that be recognised and understood". He said the original Timor Gap Treaty shared the revenue 50/50.
Mr Alkatiri will sign the treaty today, but said this did not resolve the issue of the final maritime boundary.
At a news conference last week, he said that once the new parliament had adopted a law on boundaries, it would seek to negotiate border agreements with Australia and Indonesia. He said the agreement on the shared zone in the Timor Sea was a "very temporary arrangement".
Any negotiations on a boundary, however, would take years, while East Timor's economic needs are immediate. UN officials have warned the Dili government that there is a risk such negotiations could led to tensions between the countries, which East Timor can not afford.
A senior UN official last week criticised Australia's negotiating tactics. "We've been a little bit surprised Australia is playing such hard ball," said the official, who asked not to be identified.
Adding to the controversy is an annex to the treaty covering the division of revenue from the Greater Sunrise gas field, straddling the eastern boundary of the joint development zone.
Australia had insisted on the agreement as a condition for finalising the treaty.
Under the annex, Greater Sunrise is deemed to lie 80 per cent in Australia's resource zone and 20 per cent in the joint zone. But East Timor's legal experts have advised that a permanent delimitation of the boundary could give East Timor most, if not all, of the field, likely to contain reserves worth tens of billions of dollars.
- with Jill Jolliffe
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