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US Congress Concerned Over Timor-Australia Dispute

Members of Congress Stress Concern Over East Timor-Australia Boundary Dispute

Members of Congress Stress Concern Over East Timor-Australia Boundary Dispute During Australia Free Trade Debate

July 21, 2004 - Members of the U.S. Congress continue to express concern about Australia's stance toward East Timor in boundary negotiations between the two countries. Representatives Patrick Kennedy (RI), James McGovern (MA) and Dennis Kucinich (OH) raised the issue on the floor of the House of Representatives during last week's debate on the U.S.-Australia Free Trade Agreement (FTA). Kennedy and McGovern voted for the FTA; Kucinich voted against.

Kennedy expressed the hope that "the Australian government will employ that same diligence and dedication in resolving a dispute over maritime boundaries with its neighbor, East Timor," as it did in completing the FTA.

"These disputed boundaries are a reminder of the invalid agreements made between Indonesia and Australia during the Indonesian military occupation of East Timor," he added. "The East Timorese struggle for independence will not be complete until East Timor, a fully sovereign country, no longer has to bear that lingering reminder of subjugation."

While noting his respect for Australia's government and people, McGovern expressed concern for Australia's "ruthless treatment and disregard of East Timor's rights." He urged Australia "to do the right thing by East Timor: Rejoin the international dispute resolution mechanism for maritime boundaries; refrain from offering disputed areas for new petroleum contracts; and expeditiously negotiate in good faith a permanent maritime boundary in the Timor Sea."

"The U.S. and Australia scarcely took one year to negotiate a free trade agreement. Australia has been dragging its heels since 1999 to resolve this dispute with East Timor," he added.

Calling East Timor's claim "protected by international law," Kucinich accused Australia of "displaying 'bad faith' in the negotiating process."

He said, "The people of East Timor do not want to be poor; they do not want to be begging for charity from wealthy countries, they do not want to end up as a 'failed state.' They want to be self-sufficient," he said as he urged his "colleagues to support the efforts of the world's newest independent state." (http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/getpage.cgi?dbname=2004_record&pa ge=E1423&position=all)

In March 2004, 53 representatives wrote to Australian Prime Minister John Howard, concluding that, "We trust your country's commitment to the freedom and security of East Timor will include recognition of East Timor's territorial integrity and its right to a swift, permanent resolution of the maritime boundary dispute."

Report language accompanying the Senate Foreign Operations Appropriations bill in July 2003 stated, "The Committee is aware of negotiations between East Timor and Australia over petroleum reserves, which will be of critical importance to the future economic development and security of East Timor. The Committee urges both governments to engage in good faith negotiations to resolve their maritime boundary expeditiously in accordance with international legal principles."

East Timor became the world's newest sovereign nation in 2002, following two years of UN administration and 24 years of brutal Indonesian military occupation. Vast oil and gas reserves lie under the sea between East Timor and Australia. Australia supported the illegal Indonesian occupation almost to the end, signing an illegal treaty to share the petroleum resources in 1989. Canberra was a leader in the 1999 international military intervention that accompanied Indonesia's scorched-earth withdrawal. Although East Timor's negotiations with Indonesia for its northern and western boundaries are progressing, Australia on the south has been intransigent, even as it takes in money from oil and gas deposits in disputed territory.

The East Timor Action Network/U.S. supports human dignity for the people of East Timor by advocating for democracy; sustainable development; social, legal and economic justice; and human rights, including women's rights. For more information, see www.etan.org.

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