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Gabinete do Primeiro-Ministro

Timor-Leste – Australia Maritime Boundary Negotiations
19-22 April 2004, Hotel Timor, Dili

Welcome Statement by Prime Minister Alkatiri

April 19, 2004

I am pleased to welcome the Australian delegation to the start of maritime boundary negotiations between our two sovereign states. As you visit our country, you will see the great importance our people place on the outcome of these talks.

Australia and Timor-Leste have a dispute over the location of our maritime boundary in an area of the Timor Sea all of which is closer to Timor-Leste than Australia.

For Timor-Leste, this is not an academic exercise.

A boundary determined in accordance with established principles of international law—as embodied in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and as spelled out in decisions of the International Court of Justice—would triple the income of our country.

Concretely, it means the money to immunize and educate every child in Timor-Leste. It means more children will reach the age of five years. It means more lives spent productively. It is, quite literally, a matter of life and death.

For this reason and for the reason of reaffirming our sovereign rights, we attach great urgency to reaching an agreement on a maritime boundary as soon as possible. Better sooner than later. For us, a twenty year negotiation is not an option. Timor-Leste loses one million dollars a day due to Australia’s unlawful exploitation of resources in the disputed area. That is too many lost and wasted lives.

We ask Australia to join us in a concentrated schedule of negotiations with sessions held every month. We are Asia’s poorest country, but we will find the resources to support this schedule. We ask Australia, which is the region’s richest country, to do the same. But, if Australia has a problem marshalling the necessary resources for a more compressed schedule of negotiations, we are prepared to make available some of the funds from our current share of Timor Sea oil revenues to help. This is the importance we attach to these negotiations.

We believe international law supports our claim for a maritime boundary that is at the midpoint between our countries and with eastern and western lines that reflect relevant geographic features.

We are so confident of the legal correctness of our position that we are prepared to have any impartial court—the International Court of Justice, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, or an international arbitral tribunal—decide the matter on the merits.

Just before Timor-Leste’s independence, Australia took action intended to prevent these courts from adjudicating the maritime boundary dispute between our two countries.

We know this action was aimed at us. We see it as an implicit acknowledgement of the weakness of Australia’s legal case.

Australia is not the only country to avoid international jurisdiction when it feels the law is against it. The rule of law is not only for weakest and the poorest. The powerful nation should be the example.

But Australia is doing something no other country has done in these circumstances. In addition to blocking a judicial resolution of our maritime dispute, Australia is unilaterally taking the resources from the disputed area.

We are confident that, sooner or later, there will be a fair outcome and Timor-Leste will have the maritime boundaries to which it is entitled under international law. But we fear that, when this happens, all the petroleum will already be gone from our areas. This unjust result robs too many of our children of their future.

We again ask Australia to stop the unilateral exploitation of resources in the disputed area. Australia and Timor-Leste have overlapping EEZ entitlements in a large area of the Timor Sea.

We have, however, asked Australia to honour its legal obligation of restraint in only a very small part of this area of overlapping claims—all of which is much closer to Timor-Leste than Australia.

Further, we are open to creative solutions that will not disrupt existing petroleum operations in the disputed area. We would, for example, agree to government royalties and taxes in the disputed area being placed in an escrow account payable to the country that ultimately obtains the area. I hope we can all agree that this is fair.

Unfortunately, Australia has not only refused to exercise restraint in the disputed area, it has actually awarded new licenses in this area since our formal protest last November. Companies operating in any part of the disputed area under an Australian permit should know that they will have no rights in the event a boundary places this area within Timor-Leste. Further, Timor-Leste will prosecute to the full extent of the law those that operate illegally in its maritime areas, as specified in our Diplomatic Note of November 2003.

International law requires countries to exercise restraint by not unilaterally exploiting resources in disputed areas.

Although Australia acknowledged the existence of a disputed area when it signed the Sunrise IUA, it now asserts that its longstanding “occupation” of the disputed area (as evidenced by its unilateral exploitation of petroleum in the area) means it has no obligation of restraint. This “occupation” and exploitation was only possible because of agreements Australia made with Indonesia—agreements premised on recognition of Indonesia’s annexation of Timor-Leste.

Indonesia’s annexation of Timor-Leste was illegal and the fruit of that illegal act can not be valid. Timor-Leste can not be deprived of its rights or territory because of a crime. And, we are prepared to test this proposition in any international court or tribunal of Australia’s choosing.

I believe it is in the interest of both Australia and Timor-Leste to conclude boundaries in the Timor Sea. It is clear that the petroleum industry and potential buyers desire the certainty created by boundaries. This certainty currently does not exist. Because of this risk, Australia and Timor-Leste both pay a premium to the industry.

I very much believe that our two countries can resolve the dispute in the Timor Sea if there is the political will to do so. If not, we might seek the assistance of mutual friends, or look to some other international mechanism.

I will not further delay your negotiations. I look forward to hearing of their outcome.

Thank you.

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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