Subject: Australia confident that Timor gas deal not jeopardised by crisis

Australia confident that East Timor gas deal not jeopardised by crisis

SYDNEY, July 6 (AFP) -- The Australian government said Thursday it expected a multi-billion dollar oil and gas revenue sharing deal signed earlier this year with East Timor to go ahead, despite the political crisis gripping the tiny nation.

Deposed Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri suggested in an interview published Thursday that the agreement would stall because of his downfall.

Alkatiri told The Sydney Morning Herald he'd been due to introduce a bill into parliament ratifying the agreement to split revenue from the Timor Sea's Greater Sunrise field equally between the two countries.

"Now everything is back on the table," the newspaper quoted Alkatiri as saying.

But a spokesman for Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said Australia still expected East Timor's parliament to ratify the agreement, although he conceded there may be a delay.

"The structure of the parliament is today the same as it was six months ago when the deal was negotiated," the spokesman told AFP.

"It could be, because of the political circumstances, there are some delays in final ratification but we have no indication formally or otherwise that there is a sense of the deal not proceeding," he added.

Alkatiri resigned under pressure from President Xanana Gusmao last month after being blamed for the fighting that broke out between factions of the military and police and degenerated into gang violence in the capital Dili.

His supporters have accused Canberra of orchestrating the premier's downfall -- an accusation Prime Minister's John Howard's government has strenuously denied.

Australia has some 1,500 troops and police in East Timor, along with peacekeepers from New Zealand, Portugal and Malaysia.

In the interview published Thursday, Alkatiri said he was unpopular with some Australian ministers and the media because of the hard line he took in the oil and gas negotiations.

"I have no doubt that the whole of the Australian media was trying to demonise me, that is the reality," the Herald quoted him as saying.

"Why? I have no doubt that some ministers and officers in Australia don't like me because I was known to them as a tough negotiator," he added.

Alkatiri described his downfall as an "orchestrated plot," but when asked to elaborate, he said he still had to do some work before accusing anyone.

"I'm sure that one day it will all come out," he added.

The deal signed in January ended a long-running dispute between Canberra and Dili.

Australia, which headed a peacekeeping force that played a key role in East Timor's independence from Indonesia in 2002, insisted that a 1970s Timor Sea boundary agreed with Jakarta should remain in place.

That boundary gave Canberra two-thirds of the sea area and most of its energy resources, including 80 percent of the large Greater Sunrise field.

East Timor wanted the boundary to be set at the mid-point between the two countries, giving it most of the resources.

But Dili reluctantly agreed in January to defer any final decision for 50 years in exchange for a 50-50 split of the revenue.

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

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