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Australian governments’ ruthless betrayal of East Timor

Early humans and a super volcano explosion

Timor-Leste Prepares for New Government and Opportunities for Tourist Economy

U.S. Congress supports Timor-Leste’s right to a fair maritime boundary with Australia

U.S. Congress supports Timor-Leste’s right to a fair maritime boundary with Australia
August 1, 2017 – The East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN) lauded the U.S. House of Representatives for urging a fair resolution to the maritime boundary dispute between Australia and Timor-Leste.

In July, the House noted that a fair and peaceful resolution to the dispute would set a positive example for the resolution of other maritime disputes in the region. (see text below)

Australia is now on notice that its key ally wants a fair conclusion to the talks on the maritime boundary.
The House directed the Secretary of Defense with the Secretary of State to brief the House Committee on Armed Services “on the potential security benefits that may result from the Australia-Timor-Leste conciliation process and how a peaceful resolution to the dispute might affect overall U.S. defense and security interests in the region.”

“We believe that a permanent boundary is Timor-Leste’s sovereign right and that the boundary should respect current practice under international law,” said John M. Miller, National Coordinator of ETAN.

“We welcome the U.S. House of Representatives attention to this important issue. Australia is now on notice that its key ally wants a fair conclusion to the talks on the maritime boundary,” Miller added.

Timor-Leste and Australia are currently participating in ” conciliation,.” a form of non-binding mediation under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

For the last quarter century ETAN has urged the U.S. and Australian governments, the United Nations and others to respect the sovereign rights of the East Timorese people to define the terrestrial and maritime limits of their territory.

The language concerning the maritime boundary dispute was included in the report accompanying the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018 (H.R. 2810), an annual policy-setting bill. The full bill passed the House on July 14, 2017. The statement about Timor-Leste was introduced by Madeleine Z. Bordallo (D-Guam), the Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness.



Timor Sea Maritime Developments

The committee recognizes the strategic importance of the Indo-Asia-Pacific region and has a strong interest in ensuring processes to resolve territorial and maritime disputes are done fairly and peacefully in accordance with international law. Given the growing and complex regional maritime security issues in the Pacific, the committee believes that negotiations between Australia and TimorLeste to establish permanent maritime boundaries sends a positive signal to other states in the region regarding adherence to a rules-based international order. A mutually agreed upon resolution could serve as an example for resolving other disputes peacefully and have benefits to cooperative maritime efforts in the region. The committee directs the Secretary of Defense, in coordination with the Secretary of State, to provide a briefing to the House Committee on Armed Services, not later than September 30, 2017, on the potential security benefits that may result from the Australia-Timor Leste conciliation process and how a peaceful resolution to the dispute might affect overall U.S. defense and security interests in the region.



After Timor-Leste’s Election, a Young Democracy Looks Forward

In Timor-Leste, election campaign in final week

“East Timor is Australia’s biggest foreign aid donor”

Global Peace Index recognizes Timor-Leste as having a High State of Peace

Global Peace Index recognizes Timor-Leste as having a High State of Peace 

The Global Peace Index 2017, published on the 1st of June by the Institute for Economics and Peace, has recognized Timor-Leste as having a “High State of Peace”. Timor-Leste is grouped in this category along with countries such as Singapore, Norway and the UK and was ranked 53 out of 163 countries measured.The Index reports that in 2008 Timor-Leste was in the Top 10 “At Risk” countries according to their Positive Peace deficit model. Of those ten countries five have since seen deteriorations in peacefulness and two have fallen into conflict. Timor-Leste, in contrast has built and maintained peace, showing sustained progress in the index including a two-place rise in the ranking over the last 12 months.

Minister of State Agio Pereira noted “we should never underestimate the remarkable achievement of Timor- Leste in consolidating peace over these past ten years. We are one of only a few conflict-affected countries who have managed such a transition from fragility towards resilience.”

The Institute for Economics and Peace said “High levels of Positive Peace occur where attitudes make violence less tolerated, institutions are more responsive to society’s needs and structures underpin the nonviolent resolution of grievances.”

In the recent High Level meeting of the Global Conference on the 2030 Agenda held in Dili, interventions were made by the representatives of several G7+ countries that are currently in conflict. These highlighted the devastation experienced by countries in crisis and the critical need to achieve peace in order to alleviate the suffering of their people.

Minister Pereira said “we welcome this Index as yet another confirmation of our transition over the past ten years. The work of peacebuilding and statebuilding is not easy. It takes time and patience. But we are clearly moving along the right path and have made remarkable progress. This is a credit to the people of Timor-Leste and all who continue to contribute to creating and sustaining our peaceful society.”

New president: hope for a better future

‘Much to be done’: new president brings Timor-Leste hope for a better future

Francisco ‘Lú-Olo’ Guterres says he will pursue the long-running matter of maritime and land borders with Australia and Indonesia

National pride is a serious business for Timor-Leste, a young country with a violent history. So on the eve of a presidential inauguration and the 15th anniversary of the nation’s independence, the capital Dili is covered in flags. They adorn houses, fences, bikes and cars. They are draped over balconies and the arms of the half-dozen flag sellers on each block.

As the sun sets on Dili, the seaside road fills with cars, bikes and bemos taking thousands to the historic Tasi Tolu, a park on the outskirts of the city that is deeply embedded in the story of Timor-Leste’s path to freedom. It is where Pope John Paul II once led a mass in the local language, Tetum. It is also where thousands first rallied against the Indonesian occupation, where thousands more sheltered during political upheaval, and where in 2002 the government formally proclaimed its independence.
Francisco “‘Lú-Olo’ ” Guterres, a former guerrilla fighter, won the March presidential election in a single round of voting. He is the country’s fourth president but its first to come from the nationalist leftwing party, Fretilin, born from the decades-long resistance movement.

The 12-hour inauguration ceremony – the first since UN peacekeepers left in 2012 – began at 6pm. During inexplicably long pauses, the crowd remained quiet and solemnly respectful of the event, which represents a sovereign freedom won at a great cost.

The military parade across the wide concrete grounds separated the dignitaries and world leaders under awnings draped in the national colours from the thousands of citizens standing in the dusty park or on the back of utes.

Lú-Olo and his predecessor, Taur Matan Ruak, arrived about midnight by motorcade. Speeches and formalities, the bestowing of the Great Necklace of the Order of Timor-Leste, a 21-gun salute, the raising of the flag, a lap of honour in a military jeep, and more than one rendition of the anthem, followed.

Fireworks marked the end of formalities at 3am, before a public concert entertained those who were still awake at dawn.
Nona and Angelina Fernandez
Lú-Olo formally took over the presidency and claimed a mandate to “preside over the destiny of the nation”.

“We should be proud of so much that has been done during the last 15 years, but we should be aware that there is still much to be done,” he told the crowd.

He indicated that his administration would push Timor-Leste on to the world stage, fostering relationships and defending its hard-won sovereignty.

“I will follow with particular attention and interest the process to establish demarcation of our permanent maritime and land borders with our neighbouring countries, Australia and Indonesia,” he said, referencing the long-running and frequently bitter dispute with Australia – now before the Hague – over rights to an estimated $40bn oil and gas reserve in the Timor Sea.

Domestically, he pledged sustainable development, political stability, national unity, and action on violence against women and children, and poverty.

Nona and Angelina Fernandez, 19-year-old twins who grew up learning of the troubles that began before they were born and continued until they were young children, stayed most of the night.

“I remember this independence, and now I am going to see our new president so we can welcome him,” said Nona. “And so he can see how we are going to support our leaders … For me, the president is very important in my life.”
Another woman, 22-year-old Melania, said she hoped the new leader would make education a priority.

“I believe he can build a good nation and be a better president for our country,” she said.

The presidency is largely ceremonial but is influential and seen as a figure of unity. Lú-Olo’s election – after two previous unsuccessful attempts – was assisted by the backing of the CNRT leader, Xanana Gusmao, a beloved former president and political kingmaker.

The 62-year-old is a veteran guerrilla commander and was president of the national parliament following independence.

Jose Ramos Horta, the independence leader and former president and prime minister, has previously told the Guardian the country is not so tied to its revolutionary heroes as observers suggest, but at least for those who attended the inauguration, freedom fighters are the obvious choice to now take the country through its adolescence.

Andre Rangel Gomes said they had a “moral responsibility to make a contribution to the nation”.

“It’s important because their contribution for all these years show these people really are here to contribute to the nation building.”

Gomes, who told the Guardian he was a survivor of the 1991 Santa Cruz massacre – when Indonesian forces shot and killed at least 250 Timorese pro-independence demonstrators – said Lú-Olo’s most important task was to maintain stability for Timor-Leste.

Josera de Costa, a public servant, also noted Lú-Olo’s guerrilla past, and said he was very happy to be at the inauguration.

“As leaders of the country they have a lot of experience. The younger generation need more preparation for the future,” he said.

“Lú-Olo has to do everything to make people’s lives better in this nation. Access to education, electricity, sanitation, water, housing for people.”

Nona said: “I want my president to see all these people who are poor people. To make the roads go to the village, and see how poor all the people still are far from the city.”

Poverty in Timor-Leste is decreasing, but remains a way of life for about one-third of the population. In 15 years, the country has come far but as Lú-Olo notes, it still has far to go.

Parliamentary elections will be held in coming months and Ruak is expected to run with his newly formed Peoples Liberation party.

Should the PLP win, Ruak will follow in the footsteps of several predecessors who have held the presidency and prime ministership, including Gusmao and Horta.

He will hold more power as prime minister, steering the country through economically dangerous times. The country’s leaders acknowledge its precarious over-dependence on oil and gas revenues – these contribute between 90% and 95% of the annual US$1.3bn-1.5bn ($1.75bn-$2bn) budget but current reserves are due to run out in the next few years. There is a lot of hope and investment riding on a favourable outcome in the dispute with Australia.
The vice-finance minister, Helder Lopes, told the Guardian before the inauguration that warnings the country could become a failed state were “partially correct” but the government was well aware of what it needed to do.

More than US$16bn has been funnelled into a sovereign wealth fund, which is partially invested but also heavily utilised in public spending. East Timorese ministers and diplomats are unapologetic about the government’s front loaded expenditure on infrastructure, arguing that without good roads, reliable electricity, and fast internet, investors will stay away.

Lopes noted the low 10% corporate tax rate and generous investor incentives as he described his government’s hope that Timor-Leste would become a manufacturing and finance hub in the region. He said Timor-Leste was geographically well placed and politically stable, making it an attractive option for foreign investors if the infrastructure was up to scratch.

“The next election is key. If we don’t have any problems, I believe we will give a positive signal to private sector investors.”

The Guardian travelled as a guest of the Timor-Leste embassy.


Settling the maritime borders with Timor-Leste

Hamish McDonald
is The Saturday Paper’s world editor.


Settling the maritime borders with Timor-Leste

Tolstoy once wrote a short story about a greedy peasant offered as much land as he could get around in a day. The man ran off into the steppe, returning to complete his vast circuit at dusk, only to drop dead from exhaustion.

Tolstoy’s parable “How Much Land Does a Man Need?” comes to mind as one of the sorriest chapters in Australia’s diplomatic history draws close to resolution: the story of how one of the richest countries in the world with a maritime zone already encompassing a vast stretch of the globe’s surface, pressured a much smaller and poorer neighbour into giving it more.

The game seems to be up. While most of us were on holiday in early January, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop slipped out a brief notice that Australia had agreed to begin negotiations with Timor-Leste on a permanent maritime boundary. About the same time, Timor-Leste gave notice it was terminating an existing temporary border and petroleum revenue agreement, known as the treaty on Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea, or CMATS.

CMATS was signed with great reluctance by Timorese leaders in 2006 as the best deal in the circumstances. Two months before the newly independent nation came into being in May 2002, the Howard government announced Australia’s withdrawal from the jurisdiction of the international courts on maritime boundary issues. So there was no referee.

Meanwhile, Australia had plenty of oil and gas resources and insisted on maintaining a joint development zone worked out with Timor-Leste’s Indonesian occupiers in 1989. Time was on its side. Timor desperately needed the Woodside Petroleum consortium’s Greater Sunrise gas field in the disputed zone. It caved in, accepting a split of 50:50 in the eventual Greater Sunrise revenues instead of its 18 per cent share under a previous treaty, with fishery rights thrown in. A permanent boundary was put off for 50 years.

But even that deal started foundering within four years, as Woodside baulked at the Timorese demand for the gas to be piped across the 3000-metre-deep Timor Trench to a liquefied natural gas plant on its coast. It preferred a floating LNG plant above the gas field, or failing that, a pipeline to Darwin, longer but in relatively shallow water and hence less risky.

It then came out that the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) had bugged the cabinet room in Dili in 2004 as negotiations on CMATS proceeded. Last year Timor-Leste took Australia to The Hague over this bad faith, and won, against Canberra’s opposition, an order for compulsory conciliation. In January, Timor-Leste invoked a clause requiring a start of Greater Sunrise development within 10 years as the basis for its withdrawal from CMATS.

Conciliation is less than adjudication or arbitration, but still an independent monitor. A five-member panel of maritime law experts, chaired by Denmark’s Peter Taksøe-Jensen, is supervising the bilateral negotiations under way in Singapore. The panel aims to draw recommendations “appropriate for an amicable settlement” by September 19.

Both sides are bound by confidentiality, but a high degree of optimism emanates from Timor-Leste that the commission will accept its case for the boundary to be fixed along the median line between the two coasts. Australia’s argument for decades has been that the Timor Trench, much closer to the coast of Timor, is the natural boundary between two continental shelves. It’s getting harder to argue, as geologists now say Australia’s tectonic plate collides with the Indonesian plate north of Timor and the trench is but a ripple.

But this would be a largely symbolic victory for Timor-Leste. And for Australia, it would open up a potentially lasting embarrassment with the neighbour it regards as the most critical element in its national security, Indonesia. This is an issue our leaders need to address in a fashion that puts long-term national interest ahead of immediate mercenary gains.

Many of Timor-Leste’s supporters would have it that a median line boundary would deliver it Greater Sunrise, enabling Dili to order Woodside to develop the field its way, or hand over to someone such as the Chinese. But getting more or all of Greater Sunrise requires the commission to agree on swinging the eastern lateral boundary of the disputed zone outward.

For 12 years, Dili has been nursing opinions from British and Australian sea-law experts that by taking into account a small island off the eastern end of Timor, discounting lightly populated small Indonesian islands, and fixing on certain bits of Australia’s coast, the side boundary could be swung outwards to take in the parts of Greater Sunrise currently in Australia’s exclusive economic zone.

It’s a perhaps heroic case. But it’s also a “huge gamble”, as the Australian Catholic University’s Frank Brennan, a supporter of Timor-Leste’s quest, has pointed out. The Timorese have gone back to their 18 per cent entitlement, and lost their fishing rights, with no guarantee they will get a border adjustment awarding them more than 50 per cent of Greater Sunrise. Then, of course, they would need to get Woodside to proceed with a development plan it regards as uneconomic and technically risky.

Nor is it entirely up to Australia. The eastward expansion of Timor’s jurisdiction would require Indonesia’s agreement to its small islands being discounted in the geometry, and sections of Australia’s seabed rights being transferred to Timor-Leste, rather than Indonesia. It is understood that Jakarta has formally notified the conciliation commission of its interest.

Even setting this complexity aside, a permanent median-line boundary would stick out like a dog’s hind leg on the map, reminding Indonesians of how they were “taken to the cleaners” – the phrase of Jakarta’s chief negotiator and later foreign minister Mochtar Kusumaatmadja when Australia fixed its maritime boundary with Indonesia in 1970-72 on either side of then Portuguese Timor.

As early as November 1965, Canberra knew the Timor Trench argument was a political risk. As noted in a submission to a parliamentary inquiry on relations with Timor-Leste in 2013, by former secretary to the committee on foreign affairs and defence Robert King, then national development minister David Fairbairn argued for the median line, but the Menzies cabinet took the advice of attorney-general Billy Snedden to stake out the bolder claim, which Indonesia had not challenged. “Jurisdiction asserted without challenge constitutes a powerful claim in international law,” Snedden said.

Indonesia was then of course in the middle of horrendous political violence, and unlikely to be thinking much about the seabed. By the time foreign minister William McMahon launched boundary negotiations, its experts such as Mochtar were very aware of the tectonic plate science, but were overruled by General Suharto, who wanted a quick agreement to show Indonesia was turning away from Konfrontasi with its neighbours and grateful for Australia’s support for his new regime.

After the annexation of Portuguese Timor, Canberra also played the diplomatic card as hard as it could with a much cannier Mochtar and his successor as foreign minister, Ali Alatas, parlaying recognition of Indonesian sovereignty over Timor for the joint development zone between the median line and the Timor Trench.

As with the Timor-Leste negotiations, there was some dirty play. Throughout, according to authors Brian Toohey and William Pinwill in their book Oyster: The Story of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, ASIS kept Canberra supplied with purloined information on the Indonesian case.

The heritage of the two Billys, Snedden and McMahon, lives on in Australian foreign policy, in the form of the Timor Trench as natural boundary. Whether our leaders sincerely believe in it, there seems to be a feeling it can’t be let go. As then foreign minister Alexander Downer said in April 2005: “What Australia doesn’t want is to unravel all of our maritime boundaries which have been laboriously negotiated over many years with all our neighbours.” The big worry, Downer said on other occasions, was Indonesia.

To its credit, Indonesia has never sought to reopen the border issue with Australia. But it has been mentioned as a grievance by the current armed forces chief, General Gatot Nurmantyo, and the negotiations with Timor-Leste must lead to Jakarta being brought into discussions. “In resolving one maritime boundary dispute with Timor-Leste, Australia will therefore want to ensure that it doesn’t create a fresh dispute with its biggest maritime neighbour, Indonesia,” Australian National University professor of international law Don Rothwell has pointed out.

What should Australia do? The simplest and most honest solution would be to explore with Indonesia, at the highest levels, a unilateral offer to redraw the boundary in the Timor and Arafura seas along the median line, transferring the rights under whatever existing exploration and development leases granted by Australia in affected areas.

As Robert King concluded in his inquiry submission: “The Australian government is bound to act in the best long-term interests of Australia, and that is best served by policies that are in accord with international law and equity. A fair border in the Timor Sea is in the best long-term interests of Australia. The current, essentially belligerent, stance taken by the Australian government (which has been taken consistently by all Australian governments since 1965) is contrary to the national interest (though it might be favourable to some particular interests).”

To offset any Indonesian claims for revenues extracted from these leases since 1972, Indonesia would gain the residual Australian share of Greater Sunrise. Most of the partners in the Woodside consortium already have or have had operations in Indonesia and don’t seem to be complaining about its petroleum regime.

A maritime boundary fixed according to the best geological and legal principles would be an investment in Australia’s relationships with its region. In the short term, it would be a huge boost for the increasingly embattled secular-nationalist government of President Joko Widodo, who has made control and development of the archipelago state’s maritime zones a hallmark policy.

When the border was negotiated 45 years ago, Australia seemed abundant in every resource except petroleum and felt it needed every offshore prospect it could grab, while the world’s oil companies were rushing into Indonesia’s petroleum-rich Java Sea. Now Indonesia is an oil-importing country, and Australia is about to become the world’s biggest exporter of LNG. How much gas does a country need?

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 20, 2017 as “Closing the Timor Gap”.

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