"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".