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Office of the Prime Minister
Press Statement

November 13, 2003

 Maritime Boundary Talks between Timor-Leste and Australia

The governments of East Timor (Timor-Leste) and Australia yesterday held preliminary talks in Darwin on establishing permanent maritime boundaries in the Timor Sea

The Government of Timor-Leste hopes and expects that the Australian Government will approach upcoming maritime boundary talks in a manner consistent with Prime Minister John Howard’s pledge to negotiate “in good faith”.  This is Australia’s legal obligation. Given that Australia has so far refused to exercise the restraint required at international law pending delimitation, Timor-Leste has urged Australia to commit to a rigorous schedule of talks in order to resolve the boundary quickly.

Timor-Leste inherited no maritime boundaries from Portugal, Indonesia or UNTAET. The Timor Sea Treaty and related agreements between Timor-Leste and Australia are interim measures that will terminate upon the delimitation of permanent maritime boundaries. Timor-Leste Prime Minister Dr. Mari Alkatiri said the start of talks marks an important first step towards resolving Australia and Timor-Leste’s competing claims and recognizing Timor-Leste’s right to determine its maritime boundaries.

Timor-Leste’s claim in the Timor Sea is based squarely on its entitlement at international law. It extends to all of the Timor Sea Treaty area (which includes the Bayu-Undan field), the Greater Sunrise field, and the Laminaria, Corallina and Buffalo fields. All of these fields are closer to Timor-Leste than to Australia.

Australia has an international legal obligation to exercise restraint in regard to the exploitation of resources in disputed maritime areas.  Despite this, Australia is unilaterally exploiting the Laminaria, Corallina and Buffalo fields.  Timor-Leste has not received one penny of the approximately U.S.$2 billion that Australia is estimated to collect from these fields.  Further, on April 22 of this year, Australia awarded a new permit in an area adjacent to the Sunrise field (Permit NT/P65).  This was only weeks after the Sunrise unitisation agreement was signed, and months after Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri had written to the Australian Prime Minister asking that Australia exercise restraint in relation to areas of overlapping claims in accordance with its obligations under international law.

Resolution of the maritime boundary dispute is all the more pressing, as Timor-Leste is one of the poorest nations in the world and requires substantial resources for national reconstruction and development. Timor-Leste would prefer to have access to its own resources to accomplish this, rather than depend on foreign aid.

CONTACT: Paul Cleary +670 723 4151; Alisa Newman Hood +670 723 4152; Manuel de Lemos +670 723 4154 

The Timor-Leste Institute for Development Monitoring and Analysis (La’o Hamutuk)
Institutu Timor-Leste ba Analiza no Monitor ba Dezenvolvimentu
Rua D. Alberto Ricardo, Bebora, Dili, Timor-Leste
P.O. Box 340, Dili, Timor-Leste
Tel: +670-3321040 or +670-77234330
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