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Australia Signs Timor Gap Oil Exploration Memo

Australia and UN mission in East Timor sign agreement on oil exploration in Timor Gap.

11 February -- The United Nations mission in East Timor and the Australian Government have signed a memorandum of understanding to continue the terms of the 1989 treaty that divided oil resources in the sea between Timor island and northern Australia.

The memorandum, signed yesterday in Dili by the head of the UN mission, Mr. Sergio Vieira de Mello, and the Australian representative in East Timor, Mr. James Batley, lays the groundwork for a legal arrangement between East Timor and Australia, based on the original Timor Gap Treaty signed by Indonesia and Australia.

Under the memorandum, both parties agree that all existing production-sharing contracts will continue to apply and that the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) will exercise its obligations under the treaty in close consultation with representatives of East Timor. Training and employment for East Timorese will be considered a priority under the new arrangement, which will be applied retroactively as of 25 October 1999 and will continue until the end of the transitional period.

In other news from East Timor, forensic experts at the UNTAET human rights centre in Dili have determined after three days of examinations that most of the 37 victims of the Passabe massacre in the Oecussi enclave in West Timor last September were young men aged 15 to 45, with one third under the age of 22.

Next week the experts will begin a more formal autopsy and investigators will obtain information from the victims' relatives to help identify the bodies.

Also in Dili, reconstruction work has begun on a garrison building that once housed a national museum during the last years of Portuguese rule, and is set to become a cultural centre that will house the new National Museum of East Timor.

The World Bank and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) are financing the initial rehabilitation phase, after which the World Bank will fund the centre's reconstruction over the next two years.

The renovations of the first wing of the museum are expected to be completed by 18 February, when exhibitions of Timorese textile and artifacts saved from the former national museum are to be held.

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