The Guardian November 12, 2003


"Play fair" with East Timor

About 100 NGOs from 18 countries, including Australia, PNG, 
Sweden, Britain, Germany, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia and New 
Zealand, have written to Prime Minister Howard to "play fair" 
with East Timor when negotiating over the sea boundary between 
the two countries.

At the time of the Suharto dictatorship of Indonesia an agreement 
was made with Australia that excluded rich oil and gas deposits 
under the sea from East Timorese territory.

The Australian Government continues to use this agreement that is 
a breach of the international law of the sea in negotiations with 
the independent government of East Timor. It is effectively 
robbing East Timor of resources that are estimated to be worth 
$30 billion while its people remain among the poorest in the 
world.

The non-governmental organ-isations urge Australia to set a firm 
timetable to establish a permanent maritime boundary between the 
two countries in upcoming negotiations. Preliminary talks on the 
maritime boundary were due to take place on November 10. The 
Howard Government has so far declined to accept a timetable or an 
end date for resolving the issue, despite repeated requests from 
the government of East Timor.

"Throughout these negotiations, East Timor should be treated 
fairly and as a sovereign nation, with the same rights as 
Australia", says the NGO's letter.

"At stake in these negotiations are East Timor's rights as an 
independent nation to establish national boundaries and to 
benefit from its own resources. This is indeed a test of 
Australia's respect for East Timor's right to genuine self-
determination", said John Miller of the East Timor Action Network 
(ETAN) based in the US which coordinated the letter.

"The world will judge Australia based on whether it tries to 
bully East Timor or treats it fairly and as a sovereign equal in 
these negotiations."

The letter states that under current international legal 
principles, "the median line (half way between the coastlines of 
two countries) is the standard way to establish maritime 
exclusive economic zone boundaries when two countries are closer 
than 400 nautical miles to each other.

The letter says, "We have been troubled by your government's 
callous disregard for East Timor's sovereignty and rights, which 
seems contrary to the deep concern for East Timor expressed by so 
many Australians".

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