Subject: AP: East Timor president rebukes Australia over oil dispute

East Timor president rebukes Australia over oil dispute

April 27, 2004 7:05am AP Online

LISBON, Portugal_East Timor's president lashed out at Australia, saying in an interview published Tuesday that Canberra had snatched oil reserves that belong to his country.

In an interview with the Portuguese newspaper Publico, President Xanana Gusmao added his voice to the increasingly public spat between the countries over a disputed oil field in the Timor Sea.

"It's a disgrace," Gusmao was quoted as saying.

He said Australia was "using all the dirty tactics it can" to prevent East Timor from obtaining exploration rights to what he estimated was up to US$9 billion worth of oil.

"They steal from us and then they hold conferences about transparency, anti-corruption," Gusmao was quoted as saying. "We're creating a wave of noisy protest so that the world can see what's going on. It's inadmissible."

The two neighbors are attempting to negotiate a maritime boundary.

The boundary's location will determine how much each nation can claim from among billions of dollars' worth of oil and gas under the sea between them.

East Timor, a former Portuguese colony that is one of the world's poorest nations, has previously accused wealthy Australia of dragging out the talks so it can reap the benefits of a lucrative interim agreement.

Australia has accused East Timor of trying to whip up sympathy and controversy while the negotiations are continuing.

East Timor has also criticized Australia's refusal to take the dispute to an international court.

Under United Nations maritime law, wherever neighboring claims overlap, countries must negotiate a water boundary halfway between their coastlines.

But in 2002, Australia withdrew from the international tribunal governing the maritime law, enabling it to retain control of a large portion of the disputed region, 150 kilometers (90 miles) from East Timor and 400 kilometers (250 miles) from Australia.

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