Subject: Downer: no change to Timor borders

The Australian May 25, 2002

Downer: no change to Timor borders

By Don Greenlees, Jakarta correspondent

FOREIGN Minister Alexander Downer yesterday signalled Australia would dismiss any proposals from newly independent East Timor to radically change seabed boundaries because it would risk unravelling thousands of kilometres of boundaries that have already been settled with Indonesia.

Responding to pressure from East Timorese leaders for Australia to provide a greater share of oil and gas reserves currently within Australian territory, Mr Downer said Canberra was obliged to consider any proposals put forward, but a radical change to delimitation of the boundaries was unacceptable.

"As I explained to the East Timorese some time ago, we are happy to hear what they have to say but we don't want to start renegotiating all of our boundaries, not just with East Timor, but with Indonesia. It has enormous implications," Mr Downer said.

"As I have explained to them, our maritime boundaries with Indonesia cover several thousand kilometres. That is a very, very big issue for us and we are not in the game of renegotiating them."

In contention are two large oil and gas fields known as Greater Sunrise.

About 80 per cent of this resource lies on the Australian side of a 1972 seabed boundary. The remainder is within a joint petroleum-development area covered by the Timor Sea Treaty signed by John Howard and East Timorese Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri this week. Australia and East Timor are due to begin negotiations on an agreement covering certain commercial arrangements for Greater Sunrise in the next few weeks. The two sides hope to conclude an agreement by the end of the year.

But East Timor is keen to increase its share of the $30 billion reserves estimated to lie with Greater Sunrise – nearly double the sums so far identified in the joint petroleum-development area.

The East Timorese can be expected to push their case strenuously, and are signalling they are prepared to seek an international court ruling, because the wealth of the Greater Sunrise field could make the difference between a modest income for East Timor and real wealth.

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