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Editorial
Last Updated: 05/20/2004
Will Canberra relent?


While the world is largely taken up with front page stories related one way or another to “rebuilding” Iraq, dire warnings have been issued to-day (May 20, 2004) concerning the world’s newest country and one of the smallest, East Timor.


Having fought off Indonesia over two decades, East Timor (Timor Leste) has won high praise from the United Nations

 

In a press release dated May 19, 2004 it was announced:

In another landmark of progress for Timor-Leste, the United Nations mission in the southeast Asian country today handed over all official responsibility for policing and external security to the government of the world body’s youngest member.

“This is an historic occasion and an important milestone in Timor-Leste’s history as an independent sovereign state,” Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Special Representative Kamalesh Sharma said following the formal transfer of power at a ceremony at the airport in Dili, the capital.

However, most press sources note that the Indpendence Day celebrations were obviously subdued because this tiny country, faced with 25% of its population living below the poverty line and the need for an almost total reconstruction of its social and physical infrastructure, is now deeply embroiled in dispute again, this time not with Indonesia but with Australia, one of the richest countries in the world. (On almost any measure UNDP Human development Index has Australia in the top five when it is not in the top two!).

Nevertheless, the Australian government led by John Howard believes strongly that East Timor has a fair deal over oil and gas rights in the Timor Sea. Australian Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, in true antipodean style is quoted as saying: “Australian isn’t going to suddenly move all its maritime borders with other countries in the teeth of a whole lot of emotional claptrap which is being pumped up by left-wing NGOs.”

However, other leading Australian politicians such as Senator John Cherry referred to Australia’s position as an embarrassment, and small but vociferous demonstrations were held this week in major cities across the country.

Meanwhile at the Independence celebrations in Dili President Xanana Gusmao called on everyone involved to help “rebuild this country with the skills and capacity that we have” and to show the international community that “we can govern our own country”. One of the things they need to make this possible along with the good governance that has been generated is a fair share of the oil and gas royalties.

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