Subject: LUSA: Dili leaders say 'No' to any delay in Timor Sea talks with Australia

Dili leaders say 'No' to any delay in Timor Sea talks with Australia

Dili, July 26 (Lusa) - East Timor's leaders have rejected any possibility of postponing the upcoming second round of negotiations with Canberra on demarcating their maritime border in the oil-rich Timor Sea - a move threatened by Australia's prime minister last week.

"Our position is clear: We will not accept any postponement", Timorese Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri told Lusa Saturday.

The second round of bilateral talks "was set for September and should take place in September", he added in comments at Dili's international airport where he saw off President Xanana Gusmao, who was headed to the Lusophone summit in Sao Tome.

Gusmão told Lusa it was a matter of "good faith or bad faith", adding that he hoped Australia would not give further grounds for Dili's publicly expressed doubts over Canberra's intentions.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard threatened Friday to delay the negotiations, which began with a first round in March, because opposition leader Mark Latham had said he would renegotiate the accord more favorably for Dili once his Labor Party won elections and replaced Howard's conservative government.

Howard argued that Latham's comments jeopardized Canberra's negotiating stance and indicated he could seek to push back the bilateral talks.

Reacting to the threat, Alkatiri told Lusa that Dili did not postpone its "internal commitments" because of "domestic problems" and could not accept Canberra's doing so.

While East Timor has pressed for negotiations on a monthly basis, Canberra as held out for talks every six months, while continuing to benefit from rich oil and gas operations in Timor Sea areas claimed by both countries.

Australia wants the maritime border to be based on its wide continental shelf, which would give it control of most of the offshore hydrocarbon deposits.

East Timor defends the application of a median line under international law that would place the richest oil- and natural gas- zones within its territorial waters.


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