CANBERRA – A controversial maritime border treaty which divides key oil and gas resources between Australia and East Timor is set to be axed, following a decade of disputes between the two nations.
Australia has accepted the decision and a joint statement released by the two sides says: “The government of Australia has taken note of this wish and recognises that Timor-Leste has the right to initiate the termination of the treaty.”
“Accordingly, the Treaty on Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea (CMATS) will cease to be in force as of three months from the date of that notification.”
Negotiations first began in 2002 when East Timor gained independence from Indonesia. At the time no permanent maritime boundary existed between the two nations leading to Australia and East Timor agreeing to the CMATS treaty.
The agreement set up a temporary border with further negotiations put off for 50 years following signing in 2006.
East Timor have always argued the negotiations at the time were unfair as Australia was in a position of power during East Timor’s unbalanced period of new independence.
The dispute even reached the UN when East Timor took Australia to the International Court of Justice alleging that Australian intelligence agents bugged the East Timor cabinet rooms to gain an advantage in the agreement in 2004.
Australia has denied the court has any jurisdiction, however the nations have taken part in confidential talks at the Hague.
As Australia has not contested East Timor’s decision to axe the treaty, a three month notice period will now begin before the treaty ceases to be in effect and it is likely East Timor’s spying case will be dropped.
Negotiations over where to set the border will then begin again, with East Timor arguing a border line should be drawn midway between the two nations’ coastlines, while Australia favours the border to be at the edge of its continental shelf.
Ambassador of East Timor in Australia, Abel Guterres says it is important that a decision is made in accordance with international law, “for both countries in our bilateral relations as well as regional stability and security.”
The contested area between East Timor and Australia holds resources worth over $40 billion.
– Viki Gerova, Correspondent (Oceania)