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East Timor News Digest 11 – November 1-30, 2017

Timor Sea dispute Labour & migrant workers Health & education Sexual & domestic violence Graft & corruption Poverty & social inequity Foreign affairs & trade Mining & energy Invasion & occupation Analysis & opinion Book & film reviews

Timor Sea dispute

Timor Sea dispute: progress and prospects as a deal emerges

The Interpreter - November 22, 2017

Bec Strating – Throughout the course of 2017, Australia and Timor-Leste have negotiated in international conciliation proceedings to resolve their protracted disagreements over hydrocarbon resources and maritime boundaries in the Timor Sea.

So far, we know the two countries have reached an agreement on maritime boundaries. This is significant given the history of successive Australian governments seeking a delay. Yet the precise detail of where the boundary will be located has been kept under wraps as talks continue around how to develop the 'shared resource' of the valuable yet undeveloped Greater Sunrise gas field.

The negotiation is being conducted before a panel of experts under a never before invoked dispute resolution process from the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. This expert panel was to produce a final 'non-binding' set of recommendations. Importantly, however, it appears the two countries have reached agreement through the negotiation rather than waiting for the final report. Both states have already negotiated the text for a treaty on maritime boundaries.

The agreements may be finalised by the end of the year. It is also becoming clearer that the conditions required for a sustainable deal – agreed maritime boundaries and a plan to develop the resources – are falling into place.

The past failure

The challenge is pressing. The previous deal to govern the contested Greater Sunrise field – the 2006 Treaty on Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea (CMATS) – was abandoned in January 2017 as part of a 'good faith' breakthrough in the proceedings. Timorese politicians had long argued that the CMATS was not fair. Australia had steadfastly supported CMATS, yet agreed to the dissolve the agreement in return for Timor-Leste abandoning two international legal proceedings against Australia over espionage claims.

CMATS also failed because it set aside two enduring disagreements: the 2006 deal placed a moratorium on deciding the final maritime boundary and avoided the crucial question of how Greater Sunrise would be developed. Timorese leaders such as Xanana Gusmao and Alfredo Pires wanted a pipeline to carry the gas to an onshore processing plant on Timor-Leste's south coast as part of an ambitious oil industrialisation strategy. But they could not persuade the venture partners the pipeline was commercially viable. Timorese leaders subsequently reinvigorated the pursuit of maritime boundaries.

Maritime boundaries

Both sides have maintained a commitment to the confidentiality of negotiations and information has only been made public through carefully worded press releases.

On 1 September, Australia and Timor-Leste announced an agreement on 'the central elements of a maritime boundary' in the Timor Sea. It would finalise 'the legal status of the Greater Sunrise gas field, the establishment of a Special Regime for Greater Sunrise, a pathway to the development of the resource, and the sharing of the resulting revenue'.

While we don't know yet where the boundaries are located, it seems clear from the press release that Timor-Leste was forced to compromise on its exclusive claim to Greater Sunrise in order to get an agreement on maritime boundaries. This will allow Timor-Leste to claim a moral victory against Australia, even if those maritime boundaries provide negligible material gains from CMATS. A moral victory for Timor-Leste around 'completing sovereignty' provides a good foundation for an enduring resolution as it will placate public demands among Timor-Leste's public and supporters for delimitation.

The Development Plan

Maritime boundaries have been the focal point of public advocacy, but it is the development plan that will be central to the success of the agreement. Historically, it was the inability of Timorese leaders to secure a pipeline to the country's south coast that ultimately led to the resumption of symbolic maritime boundary claims.

The development plan is being negotiated between Timor-Leste, Australia and the commercial venture partners, headed by Woodside. It seems unlikely Timor's leaders will get their pipeline but parts of its development plan may be incorporated in the agreement. This will depend upon how wedded Timorese political leaders are to the Tasi Mane project on Timor-Leste's south coast. The big question is also whether Timor-Leste will win a revenue share greater than 50:50.

For the agreement to be sustainable, both sides will need to consider it fair and mutually beneficial. Yet this is not a sufficient condition, as the Timorese government promoted the CMATS as both fair and mutually beneficial after it was signed.

The other important lesson from the failed CMATS deal is it lacked broad support across political elites in Timor-Leste. While it was a FRETILIN government that signed the CMATS deal, it was successive Xanana Gusmao-led governments (and later, Dr Rui Araujo) that sought to undo the treaty. Any fresh deal will also need to withstand the test of domestic politics.

This is significant given the current political turmoil in Timor-Leste. The newly re-instated FRETILIN government has been unable to pass its national agenda through parliament. It has been stymied by an opposition led by the chief negotiator in the Timor Sea proceedings, Xanana Gusmao. As long as Gusmao continues to be a part of the negotiations there is a better shot of the agreement being sustainable. If FRETILIN does not pass its agenda a second time, it could set the scene for a constitutional crisis. Selling the deal

An important element of any successful international negotiation is to 'sell' the deal to constituents. In this case, the invested audiences are the Timorese public and a small number of Australian-based advocates.

Maritime boundaries will most likely need to be based on the median line to be perceived as fair. But what the 'median line' means is legally ambiguous. If Timor-Leste has given away too much territory in its pursuit of finalising maritime boundaries, civil society advocates may become critical of the agreement, as they were of CMATS for delaying boundary delimitation. The Timor Sea Justice Campaign, for instance, recently tweeted that a boundary following international law would see most, if not all, of Greater Sunrise go to Timor-Leste. This is not necessarily true: the interim eastern lateral line that split Greater Sunrise was originally based on principles of simple equidistance.

In any case, a solution that does not conform broadly to the key principles of UNCLOS may be hard to sell to advocates of Timor-Leste's claims. This is also necessary for Australia as it supports primacy of the so-called 'rules based order' in other regional maritime disputes.

The Importance of bilateralism

One positive from this negotiation is while it has been undertaken under the auspices of the UN Compulsory Conciliation (UNCC), using the Permanent Court of Arbitration as a registry, the UNCC itself is not a court. It does not have the power to provide a judgement that is binding on all parties. The primary method of dispute resolution is primarily through bilateral diplomacy assisted by a panel of conciliators.

This means both sides must agree to the terms of the agreements, yet the involvement of the UNCC helps avoid the perception of unfairness that plagued CMATS, particularly after allegations that Australia spied on Timor-Leste's negotiating team in 2004. Avoiding the International Court of Justice or a similar arbitral tribunal also allowed for a quicker resolution. This is particularly important as over 90% of Timor-Leste's state budgets is drawn from oil revenues developed under separate arrangements, which are expected to run out in the early 2020s.

Ultimately, Timor-Leste requires a deal that provides material and symbolic gains in order to justify its risky decision to abandon CMATS. For Australia, the agreement needs to mitigate the reputational harms that have come from its realpolitik approach to the issue over four decades, and assist its smaller neighbour deal with short- and medium-term economic development.

An agreement finally appears to be in sight.

Source: https://www.lowyinstitute.org/the-interpreter/timor-sea-dispute-progress-and-prospects-deal-emerges

Timor Leste demands pipeline link to Sunrise gas project

The Australian - November 10, 2017

Paul Garvey, Perth – Timor Leste has reinforced its insistence that gas from the Greater Sunrise LNG project be piped to Timorese soil, dashing hopes of a compromise over the long-stalled project.

Timor Leste, representatives of the Australian government and the Sunrise joint venture partners – Woodside Petroleum, ConocoPhillips and Royal Dutch Shell – have been meeting in Brisbane this week for the first negotiations between the parties for several years.

Sunrise has been stalled for years amid a dispute over the maritime boundary between Australia and Timor Leste, as well as a determination from Timor Leste that any future development involves a pipeline between it and the fields.

The partners have long favoured a development that would involve either piping the gas back to the existing Darwin LNG plant or a dedicated floating LNG vessel. A Timor Leste development has previously been regarded as uncompetitive due to a deep ocean trench between the country and the gas fields.

The boundary dispute is all but resolved following a decision by the Permanent Court of Arbitration of Copenhagen in August that left the parties needing to agree to a development pathway for the fields.

When asked by The Australian at the weekend whether the country would consider an option that did not involve a Timor Leste LNG plant, Timor Leste Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri said "everything is on the table".

But in a letter to The Australian, Mr Alkatiri's chief of staff Nelson Santos "strongly refuted" any suggestion that Timor Leste was open to any other development option for Sunrise.

"Any development in the Greater Sunrise field must include the option of a pipeline to Timor Leste," Mr Santos said.

"The ongoing infrastructure development in our southern coast of the country to host petroleum processing facilities should be a strong testament to this commitment."

Mr Santos said the Prime Minister had his full confidence in the country's chief negotiator, former president Xanana Gusmao.

Source: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/mining-energy/timor-leste-demands-pipeline-link-to-sunrise-gas-project/news-story/695fd493533f3e4393451b8650ce75b0

Maritime deal revives stalled Woodside-Timor Leste gas project

The Australian - November 4, 2017

Paul Garvey – Timor Leste will start negotiations today with Woodside Petroleum and other members of the stalled Greater Sunrise liquefied natural gas project in an attempt to finally resolve the regulatory uncertainty that has long lingered over the development.

And Timor-Leste has indicated that it may have thawed on its insistence that any development of Sunrise includes an onshore processing plant on Timor Leste soil, with Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri telling The Australian that "everything is on the table".

The negotiations, which will include representatives of the Australian government, represents the first time all three parties in Sunrise – Timor Leste, Australia and the joint venture partners – have met together for several years.

Timor Leste has long argued that any development of the big Greater Sunrise gasfields should involve an onshore LNG processing plant on Timorese soil. That plan has been seen as too costly and uneconomic in the eyes of the joint venture partners, who have instead leaned towards either piping the gas to the existing Darwin LNG plant or exploiting the field through a floating LNG vessel.

Greater Sunrise's proposed development has also been complicated by a long-running dispute between Timor Leste and Australia over the maritime border between the two nations, but that impasse appeared to be resolved after a decision by the Permanent Court of Arbitration of Copenhagen in August.

The terms of the deal remain confidential until they are finalised in the coming months.

Speaking on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Regional Conference in Perth, Dr Alkitari (sic) suggested that the country would be prepared to consider gas from Greater Sunrise being processed in Australia in order to break the deadlock.

Dr Alkitari said the negotiations between Timor Leste and the project partners would be led by former prime minister Xanana Gusmao.

We've already agreed on the maritime boundary, we are now discussing with the joint venture the economics part of the agreement," Dr. Alkitari told The Australian. "(On Monday) we start negotiation with the joint venture in Brisbane."

While enthusiasm for developing Greater Sunrise has waned somewhat among the companies due to the downturn in oil and gas prices, the project is poised to become increasingly important to Timor Leste in the coming years as the established Bayu Undan gasfield starts to run out of gas.

The Greater Sunrise gasfields contain 5.13 trillion cubic feet of gas as well as 225.9 million barrels of condensate. Woodside Petroleum chief executive Peter Coleman said any willingness by Timor Leste to consider other development options for Sunrise would help improve the project's prospects.

"That would be a change in position from them, so if he's told you that it'd be news to me." He said.

Mr. Coleman said getting all three parties into the same room again was a positive step for the project. "This week in Brisbane, the three parties, the Australian government, the Timorese and the Sunrise joint venture will get together and start sharing technical details, costings and so on and so forth," he said.

"It's really the first time that the three have sat in the same room for some period of time."

Woodside owns a 33.4 per cent stake, with ConocoPhillips – which operates the Darwin LNG plant – owning 30 per cent, Royal Dutch Shell 26.56 per cent and Osaka Gas owning 10 per cent.

The last serious evaluation of Sunrise by the partners centred on developing the fields using Shell's proprietary floating LNG technology. But the delays of recent years have boosted the economic case for using the gas to backfill the ConocoPhillips-operated Darwin LNG plant, given the looming exhaustion of Bayu Undan.

"The reality is, we've always said that in this world it's better to be capital efficient," Mr Coleman said. "LNG is very simple, the lowest cost of supply gets into the market. If you use other facilities, you can be capital efficient and you've got the best chance of getting into the market."

The prospects for new green-fields LNG processing plants in Australia look remote following years of investment in new facilities, weak international oil and gas prices, stretched balance sheets among oil and gas producers, and the current oversupply in LNG markets.

Woodside in particular has been driving efforts to open up existing LNG plants to third-party gas supply, with the company eager to start toll-treating gas from other projects through the big North West Shelf LNG plant on the WA coast. The plant is a potential processing option for the big but undeveloped Browse and Scarborough gasfields off WA.

Source: No link available

Labour & migrant workers

Unemployment rates increasing annually

Dili Weekly - November 27, 2017

Celestina Soares, Est – The President of Timor-Leste National Youth Council (CNJTL), Maria Dadi Magno said unemployment rates in Timor-Leste are high and increasing annually, because now there are more high school graduates.

She said from the total number of high school graduates only some go on to study at university, while the others go into unemployment.

"The rates of unemployment rose from 15,000 to 20,000 annually. This is because there aren't any jobs out there," said the President of CNJTL in Dili.

Although she is happy with the rising numbers of high school graduates, as it is important for the Nation that students complete their studies, there also is a huge need for more employment opportunities.

"We are happy about the quantity and still sad with the quality. We estimate that 7.000 people continue their studies, some obtains scholarships to go overseas and but also in the country," she said.

The President went on to say we now have a National Youth Policy that will look at good intervention strategies to reduce unemployment, especially for those at risk The policy also gives more consideration to focus on the unemployed.

"Some have natural ability but don't have opportunities and we need to look at this," she said.

Evaristo de Deus, Program Manager from the organization Forum Tau Matan (FTM), said they focus on the young unemployed people in rural areas and provide leadership training, public speaking and improve ways for them to compete in the labor market.

"We know there are many unemployed and our government opens many fieldwork opportunities yearly, many young people have the ability, however they are often shy to compete in the labor market," he said.

One resident Filomena da Costa asked the government to provide field work to the youth because today many youth are jobless.

"I would like to ask the new government to find a mechanism that reduces unemployment in Timor-Leste, because most young people in Timor-Leste are jobless,"she urged.

Source: http://www.thediliweekly.com/en/news/14925-unemployment-rates-increasing-annually

Health & education

Timor-Leste does not promote condoms to the general public

Dili Weekly - November 27, 2017

Paulina Quintao – The government through the Ministry of Health (MH) made a decision to promote the International method of A and B (Abstinence and Be faithful) in its HIV/AIDS campaign activities to increase community awareness on the prevention of infections with the virus HIV, but not to promote method C (use of condom) to the general public.

MH HIV/AIDS Focal Point Frederico Bosco of the ministry's HIV/AIDS program, said the decision to change promoting condoms to self-control took place after several discussions with the National Council Combating HIV/AIDS, with religious organisations, government, agencies and relevant institutions that work in this area.

Although he said the National Policy of the Ministry of Health is clear about promoting and distributing condoms as an alternative amongst at risk groups such as men-sex-men (MSM) and prostitutes, in the prevention of HIV, but not for the community in general.

He added, distribution of condoms is made weekly to public facilities where sexual transition may take place, however this depends on the existing stocks.

"This is an International Method, the implementation depends on the situation of each country and consultations by the Timor-Leste's council with religious organisations, government and agency decisions," he said by telephone.

He acknowledged that there were pro's and con's about the change of decision to change 'C' from condoms to self-control, but that the main point is the decision was made by Timor-Leste.

In relation to the stocks of condoms, currently the warehouse is out of stock and in the process of purchasing.

Meanwhile, the Executive Secretary of the National Commission Combating HIV/AIDS- Timor-Leste (KNKS-TL), Daniel Marcal said behavior change education is the solution to combating HIV in Timor-Leste, not condoms, because condoms are not 100% protection from the virus.

"It can protect, although not 100%, this can be dangerous therefore, as a Timorese, I do not want to teach my people to use condoms when it is not a 100% protection from the virus," he said.

He added from the start of 2010, Timor-Leste began to distribute and promote the usage of condoms but the reality shows the situation has increased, which indicated that condoms are not the only solution.

He went on to say the commission does not ignore condoms and will still continue to talk about the use of condoms.

The numbers of HIV cases are on the rise even after the decision was made to stop the promotion of condoms to the general community, however many people now have the knowledge though community awareness initiatives to go and have a HIV test.

From the registered data, he said some 700 people are infected with the HIV virus through sexual relations, however the commission continues to provide education to everyone and about self-control in order to avoid the virus.

On the other hand, a mother Georgina Ximenes said she received information about this virus through the national media, and still does not understand and feels the information is not clear, in particular the background and ways to implement prevention.

"Information should be clear so we can understand and be clear to share with our children who are growing up," she said.

She also urged the commission to use simple language when raising community awareness, so parents can understand the information, as the communities have different backgrounds in terms of education and knowledge.

Source: http://www.thediliweekly.com/en/news/14934-timor-leste-does-not-promote-condoms-to-the-general-public

School principal of Secondary School 4 September Bans students from

Dili Weekly - November 27, 2017

Lolita Pacheco, Est – The School Principal Alberto da Costa Braz from Secondary School 4 September Balide, has placed a ban on his students, especially for girls not to wear short uniforms and to follow school regulations.

As he said, the school expects a person to follow discipline in school, as this will prepare them for a good future.

"Our regulation is to regulate the students to not wear mini uniforms, do not use lipstick, and have red hair," said Director Braz in his office, Dili.

He said when the teachers find the students who wear mini uniforms then the school will give sanction to those students. For the boys, the school has banned wearing earrings in ears and nose.

"School regulation bans for students is to not put earrings in ears and nose or to wear miniskirts and if they do then will receive a sanction," he said.

Therefore, he asked the youth, especially the students to not adopt foreign cultures, to learn and maintain the culture and customs, as Timorese people.

Cristal Aurelia de Jesus a student asked the Ministry of Education to create and include in schools a law and regulation for banning students, especially for the girls not to wear miniskirts. "They must continue to wear uniforms like in the past, that are long," she urged.

In response to this issue, the General Director Ministry of Education (DJ-ME), Antoninho Pires said the decree law for the Ministry covers discipline and behavior for both students and teachers.

"The students do not wear shabby dresses or dress for party, it is not right, they should wear the clothes appropriate for students," he said. "In order to not create social jealousy or social imbalance."

The Director also asked the teachers to approach the students and explain the importance of obeying the school's regulations.

Source: http://www.thediliweekly.com/en/news/education/14929-school-principal-of-secondary-school-4-september-bans-students-from-wearing-short-uniforms

Sexual & domestic violence

Violence and corrective rape common for East Timor's LBT women

Gay Star News - November 9, 2017

Shannon Power – An alarming majority of lesbian, bisexual and trans (LBT) people in East Timor have faced violence.

Many women and trans men reported facing extreme homophobic violence, often at the hands of family members.

The worrying findings were revealed in 'A Research Report on the Lives of Lesbian and Bisexual Women and Transgender Men in Timor-Leste'.

The ASEAN SOGIE Caucus released the report this week. It is the first report of its kind to document the lives of LBT people in East Timor.

'I was tied up in the back of the car and dragged across the road for everyone to see,' said one of the survey respondents.

Some recalled the violence they faced at the hands of their own siblings.

'For so long, I suffered at the hand of my oldest brother and sister. I ended up in a hospital three times. My chest was bleeding due to a hard kick from my sister with her high heels on,' one woman said.

'I was tied up and pulled by the car by my brother, strangled with a hose, and pushed inside a water tank for hours. I tried to end my life a few times. My biggest dream is to continue my education.'

'I was hit with a machete by my sisters. I still have scars on my face,' another person said.

East Timor

Timor Leste or East Timor in English, is a young nation which lies in between Australia and Indonesia. The country held its first pride parade in July which attracted international attention.

In the lead-up to the parade, Prime Minister Rui Maria De Araujo became the first Southeast Asian leader to publicly support LGBTI rights.

'Discrimination, disrespect and abuse towards people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity does not provide any benefit to our nation,' he said at the time.

The report's authors said while East Timor has a history of voting in favour of ending discrimination against LGBTI people, there was still a long way to go.

'While there are ongoing advocacy efforts to advance rights of LGBTIQ persons, we realize that lesbian, bisexual and queer women, and transgender men are sidelined,' said Ryan Silverio, regional coordinator, ASEAN SOGIE Caucus.

Corrective rape

Many of the women in the study described ways in which their families had try to convert them to heterosexuality or their assigned birth gender.

Often the tactics were cruel and unusual. Some women were forced to drink chicken's blood to 'cleanse' them. Many of the women bore children after enduring corrective rape.

'I was raped by my own uncle who believed he can change my sexual orientation by pushing me into (a) heterosexual relationship. I got pregnant but I (found) traditional medicine to get it aborted. After that I left my home and live with friends,' one woman said.

Corrective rape is a form of sexual assault against an LGBT person in order to make that person straight or gender-conforming.

'I was forced by my family to have sex with a man, which happened when one day they pushed me inside the room with him and locked it from the outside,' another woman said.

'He sexually assaulted me. My family believed that by doing so it will 'correct' my sexual orientation.'

Educational discrimination

The women in the survey relied heavily on their families for financial support.

Even among the women in the research who had jobs, 66% of them earned less than US$100. Many wanted a chance to improve their education to find better work. But almost all the women had face barriers to their education.

Some said their families discouraged them from going to school. Their families argued there was no point in getting an education because nobody would hire them.

One teacher even refused to sign one of the respondents' school credits because he did not like her 'short haircut'.

What comes next?

The report includes a number of recommendations to East Timor's government and civil society. Including to facilitate leadership-building opportunities and support groups.

It also called for 'opportunities to enhance their own capacities to help make them active and capable advocates for their own rights.'

'It is envisaged to use the findings in various national and regional platform to raise awareness about LBT rights issues,' said Irma Saeed, one of the report's authors.

'This will help us in initiating advocacy... to support members in living a dignified life without fear of violence, discrimination and prejudices towards them due to their non-conformist gender identity and sexual orientation.'

Source: https://www.gaystarnews.com/article/violence-corrective-rape-common-east-timors-lbt-women/

Graft & corruption

Fighting corruption with spiritual power in East Timor

New Mandala - November 3, 2017

Edward Aspinall & James Scambary – One of the surprises of East Timor's July parliamentary election and the subsequent wrangling over the formation of a new government has been the role played by a new force in Timorese politics: the KHUNTO Party.

KHUNTO, an acronym that stands, in translation, for Enrich the National Unity of the Sons of Timor, was one of two parties to gain seats in the parliament for the first time, winning 6.4% of valid votes and five seats – enough to give it a critical role in the formation of East Timor's new government. In September 2017 it exercised this role dramatically, defecting from a deal it had previously been negotiating with the FRETILIN party (the first-placed in July's election) and thus destroying new Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri's parliamentary majoritya move that might lead to the collapse of the FRETILIN government, new elections, or both.

Even before this dramatic denouement, KHUNTO had sparked curiosity among observers of East Timor's politics. While the rise of another new party, the Popular Liberation Party (PLP) led by former president Taur Matan Ruak, was widely predicted, KHUNTO is less well understood. Unlike other parties winning seats in parliament, KHUNTO is neither linked to an organisation that played a leading role in the struggle for independence against Indonesian rule, nor led by a prominent older-generation leader of that struggle.

Instead, KHUNTO draws support from members of a number of martial arts groups, especially the Wise Children of the Land (KORK) – headed by the husband of KHUNTO's leader – and from associated family networks. Martial arts groups are an important social institution among young people, especially young men, in East Timor. They provide companionship, recreation, and an outlet for masculine identity. Accordingly, some observers spoke about KHUNTO being the party of disenfranchised youths – especially unemployed youths in Dili and other towns.

In fact, exit polls and voting results show that this story is only partly correct: while it is certainly true that KHUNTO is disproportionately supported by young voters, the bulk of its vote came from rural areas. Moreover, a large part of its appeal can be attributed to a cultural practice borrowed directly from the quasi-mystical culture of the martial arts organisations, and of rural Timorese society: KHUNTO supporters took juramento (blood oaths) stressing their loyalty to the party and inviting misfortune should they betray it. These oaths, from the perspective of party leaders, were an effort to lock in their vote and prevent poaching by other parties. From the perspective of supporters, they signified that KHUNTO was more than a mere political vehicle. Instead, through these oaths KHUNTO supporters bind themselves together as kin, becoming like brothers and sisters who swear to help each other out in times of financial or personal hardship.

Such rituals tap into a rich vein of mysticism in Timor. Traditional animist beliefs are practiced in tandem with Catholicism, or syncretic versions of both. One still-active group, Seven-Seven, for example, inserts a potion under their skin in the belief that it gives them magical powers such as shape changing and invisibility. There are stories that even the KHUNTO leader himself has claimed to have met the archangel Gabriel and to have received a secret language. Photos of him have emerged on social media dressed in a priest-like cassock initiating new KORK members (one of them was a government minister).

What's fascinating, however, is how this traditional culture of oath-taking meshes in KHUNTO's appeal with a very contemporary feature of Timorese life: corruption. Over the last decade or so, a pattern of clientelism has overtaken government in East Timor. The government of Xanana Gusmao has distributed jobs, public office, contracts, projects, scholarships, and other material benefits, treating them as a glue to hold together what might otherwise have been highly fragile coalition governments. One reflection of the new politics has been a series of corruption scandals that have rocked the country. One of these scandals claimed the prize scalp of the Finance Minister – although she hotfooted it to Portugal for medical treatment and never returned. There has also been sustained anger over life pensions for politicians and the sale of government cars to parliamentarians at knockdown prices, leading to a number of widely reported demonstrations.

Many people in rural areas know about high-level corruption, and they also can see people around them benefiting from family or other connections to officeholders, while themselves lacking the personal links or social leverage to make similar gains. Growing perceptions of corruption are thus not always connected with sophisticated understandings of the rule of law and administrative order, but instead reflect people's daily observations that others are benefitting while they are not.

In several interviews we have conducted since the election, KHUNTO party leaders and activists have repeatedly stated that much of the party's appeal derived from the strategy to defeat corruption they offered to voters. More specifically, the party's use of juramento, they say, offers a uniquely effective cure to the problem. Not only are ordinary members bound to the party by oaths, but elected officials from the party will be bound to reject corruption by the same method. Indeed, should the party ever gain control over government, all public officials will be required, they say, to take juramento threatening them with punishment should they steal the people's money or otherwise betray their trust. As one of our informants put it, oaths on the bible, such as those already taken by MPs, are not effective: God punishes only in the afterlife, while "Timorese culture" will punish the oath-breakers in the here and now – through illness, death or other misfortune. This conjoining of opposition to corruption and the juramento was, as one KHUNTO activist put it, the "core of our program". A district coordinator for the party explained that KHUNTO activists did not even bother to explain the details of their policies on health, education and similar matters when trying to win over voters, in part because they knew they could not compete with established parties on such grounds. Instead, they offered an approach based on "trust". "Do you trust us", he said they would ask voters, "to keep our promises?" Voters could do so, he assured them, because of the juramento: "In East Timor, there is a lot of corruption because they government isn't able to control it. We have a way to provide that control. If you vote for us, our people will be sworn, and if they break their oaths they will be punished".

KHUNTO is interesting, thus, not only for how it represents a fusion of Timorese tradition and democratic politics, but to how it points toward social and political tensions that may be eroding the foundations of Timor's political community. Though liberation-era leaders and parties continue to wield enormous popularity and influence, there is also growing awareness among many ordinary Timorese of the disproportionate personal benefits being accrued by those in office, and by their family members and other associates. Some Timorese apparently see the juramento as a solution to such problems, and as a means to assert popular control over a government apparatus which they see as becoming increasingly remote and venal.

Of course, this does not mean that such an approach is likely to be effective. According to one high-placed party leader, 89,000 persons pledged their support to KHUNTO by taking oaths but on election day the party got under 37,500 votes. This result means that even many in KHUNTO's immediate circle were apparently unconcerned about the misfortunes that threatened them should they break their oaths. There is also little reason to expect that KHUNTO's leaders would themselves abjure patronage politics should they come to office. On the contrary, it is possible to read in KHUNTO's internal emphasis on egalitarianism, familialism and sharing a hint that what many Timorese seek when they criticise corruption is not so much a remaking of the political order, but rather a share of the benefits they believe are going to people outside their own social networks.

Timor's political situation is now in extended flux, and may not be resolved until March 2018 if the option of new elections is taken. Regardless of what happens next, after over a decade of dominance by the two main parties FRETILIN and the CNRT, KHUNTO has certainly made Timorese politics interesting again.

Source: http://www.newmandala.org/fighting-corruption-spiritual-power-east-timor/

Poverty & social inequity

Toxic cost of rubbish scavenging in East Timor

Aljazeera - November 19, 2017

Ian Lloyd Neubauer, Dili, East Timor – Smouldering fires. Haphazard explosions. Malnourished children. The disintegration of law and order and the absence of social services.

In 1999, images such as these sparked widespread public anger around the world and the dispatch of an international peacekeeping force to East Timor after anarchy erupted following the country's independence referendum on leaving Indonesia.

But nearly two decades after peace was restored in East Timor nothing much has changed at the Tibar landfill near the capital, Dili, where rubbish scavengers as young as eight years old eke out a living in unimaginable conditions.

The unregulated dumping ground for most of Dili's rubbish – including lethal asbestos and untreated hospital waste – the seven-acre site set in the belly of a steep valley is an environmental and public health catastrophe.

According to World Health Organization, "about 100 tonnes of hazardous wastes are produced every year in Dili from healthcare activities alone. As there is no centralised treatment or disposal facility available for such waste, they are quite often disposed [of] with municipal waste in Tibar".

The first thing that strikes visitors to the Tibar landfill are wafts of acrid black smoke released by fires set by scavengers to melt the plastic off items such as washing machines and chairs that can then be sold as scrap metal.

"The smoke really surprised me. It's surreal – a 24/7 smouldering heap," says Chris Kaley, a tourist from Australia who visited the landfill with Bruce Logan, the Australian co-owner of Dili's Beachside Hotel.

"I come here once or twice a week to dump rubbish. I also bring any of our guests who are interested in seeing how the other half live," Logan says. "I call it the 'stop-your-whingeing tour' because coming here gives you a reality check about the trivial things people complain about in Australia."

The moment Logan parks his utility vehicle, a group of 20-odd scavengers dressed in torn filthy rags raid the bags of rubbish stacked on his vehicle's tray.

Among them is DomiNGOs, a 61-year-old man working at the landfill for six months. "The valuable things are bottles and cans," he says. "If I collect a big pile of cans, I can sell it for $1."

There are also children in the group, including an eight-year-old girl named Vanya who lives just outside the dump. She says she has been working here all her life.

"I like it here because I can be with my parents and friends," she says. Vanya claims she attends school, but when asked why she isn't there at that moment, she does not reply.

Bio, an 11-year-old boy, caked in filth and grime, also claims he studies "in the afternoon", though it's hard to imagine how he could attend class in such a condition. At that very moment, an aerosol can concealed in a burning heap behind the two children explodes, emitting an ear-piercing roar. Translator Rosentina Borges de Araujo and this reporter flinch with fright, while Bio and Vanya only smile.

No outside help

On the edge of the valley, we speak to Magdalena, a 70-year-old woman working at the landfill since 2006 who sleeps under a corrugated iron sheet supported by four short posts.

Her shanty conflicts with information offered by an employee of the sanitation department working onsite, who said on condition of anonymity, "it is not allowed for people to live inside" the landfill. He's also the only individual interviewed at the site who claims to earn a living wage – albeit a paltry sum of US$150 per month.

On the other end of the spectrum, Magdalena claims to earn no income at all despite efforts to sell scrap metal for US$2 per pile. "I don't make any money," she says. "I can't remember the last time I sold anything."

Magdalena says the government doesn't offer any kind of assistance to scavengers at Tibar, but that a number of NGOs have come here over the years to offer jobs on the outside. "I never got one," she says. "Only some other people did."

London-based Small Steps Project is among the many NGOs that have tried – and apparently failed – to make a difference at Tibar.

According to the group's website, it previously distributed food, water and shoes to 130 children living in the area and assisted "two large families who desperately needed food, cooking tools, cutlery and plates". But the programme is "no longer active".

The Ryder Cheshire Foundation, another NGO, previously provided "medical support for emergencies on the site". But there is no evidence of healthcare at Tibar today. "I am sick. We are all sick. We have coughs," says rubbish scavenger Maria. "When it hurts we go to the hospital to get medicine. Then we come back to work."

Adds Aliso, a 55-year-old man working at Tibar since 2004. "I am sick all of the time from the smoke. I have a cough. During the day it's okay, but it hurts more at night."

Making the best of it

Despite the dangerous and unprofitable nature of rubbish scavenging at Tibar, many of those who work here claim they are satisfied with their lot. "I like my job because no one bosses me around," says the sanitation department employee. DomiNGOs the scavenger adds: "This is our place. We help each other. We collect food for pigs. Sometimes, we also find treasure buried here."

"It may look like a war zone, but I did not feel an extreme sense that the people here were helpless," says Chris Kaley from Australia. "Somehow they all survive."

Masa Oki is a truck driver from Dili dumping rubbish at the site. "This is their habit. It's not for us to say if it's good or bad. I think it would be difficult to get them to leave this place."

But the World Health Organization says improvements are required. "Institutional arrangements for solid waste management in Dili need strengthening with necessary logistics and manpower support. Dumping site at Tibar needs an urgent upgrading from the current crude dumping to a controlled tipping situation."

Source: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/11/toxic-cost-rubbish-scavenging-east-timor-171119195511456.html

Foreign affairs & trade

Asean to discuss admitting East Timor as new member

Bangkok Post - November 12, 2017

Kyodo News – The Association of Southeast Asian Nations will convene a meeting of senior officials next month to discuss admitting East Timor as a member, Asean officials said Sunday.

The Asean working group on East Timor will meet Dec 5 on the Indonesian resort island of Bali, Chandra Widya Yudha, director of Asean political and security cooperation at the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told Kyodo News on the sidelines of meetings of the leaders of the 10 current member states of Asean, and of its major dialogue partners including China, the United States and Russia.

Chandra did not elaborate, but another Asean official said "no breakthrough is on the horizon" despite Indonesia's wish for East Timor's admission as quickly as possible.

According to Jose Tavares, director general for Asean cooperation at the Indonesian foreign ministry, the association has now received the results of studies by three independent teams which examined the political, economic and sociocultural aspects of admitting East Timor as the influential regional group's 11th member.

Those studies will be considered by officials in making recommendations as to whether East Timor is ready to join six years after first applying, Tavares said.

East Timor applied for membership in 2011 when Indonesia was chairing the group. Indonesia's then foreign minister, Marty Natalegawa, said that geographically East Timor is part of Southeast Asia and there are only two options for the group: to invite it to join or to ignore the tiny country.

Some Asean members have been cool to the idea, with Singapore in particular voicing concern over the country's lack of human resources to cope with Asean's many meetings and economic gap with other members.

Despite oil and gas revenues, East Timor remains one of the poorest countries in the Asia-Pacific region, with official statistics indicating that around 40% of the population lives below the poverty line.

East Timor, a former Portuguese colony, declared its independence in 1975 but was invaded and annexed by Indonesia later that year.

Following a popular vote to split from Indonesia in 1999, East Timor became independent in 2002 after two and a half years under UN administration.

Asean comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Source: https://www.bangkokpost.com/news/asean/1359247/

Detained Timorese delegates to ASEAN civil society assemblies released

Inter Aksyon - November 5, 2017

Manila – How "inclusive" and "pro-people" is ASEAN, as it marks its 50th anniversary this year? The question was raised at the weekend after immigration authorities from host country Philippines detained for nearly 12 hours four East Timorese nationals who flew in to attend the ASEAN Civil Society Conference/ASEAN Peoples Forum (ACSC/APF).

Reasons given by officials for holding them at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 3: inability to explain fully [explain] the purpose of their visit and lack of visible financial means for their stay.

Fortunately, the issue was cleared and the four East Timorese were released, after the intervention of Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente himself and presidential peace adviser Jesus Dureza.

Still, while it allowed the delegates to join their comrades in the civil society meetings at 6pm Saturday, the Bureau of Immigration kept the four delegates' passports for "safekeeping" pending the issuance of a "Recall of Exclusion Order" or REO.

According to a press release from the local organizers of the civil-society forum, the BI allowed the delegates' entry to the Philippines after they verified during negotiations with the organizers and lawyers of the ACSC/APF that the Timor Leste nationals are indeed participating in the civil-society ASEAN assemblies organized by the group.

The official reasons cited for the "exclusion order" were: "not able to explain the purpose of their travel" and "not able to establish financial capacity for their visit."

The ACSC/APF legal team is assisting the Timorese nationals and is working out the issuance of the REO in order for their passports to be released by Monday.

Members of the ACSC/APF National Organizing Committee (NOC) expressed appreciation for the favorable intervention of BI Commissioner Morente, and the assistance of Dureza. They are pleased that the Timorese delegates are no longer detained and are now out of the airport.

However, the NOC said that while it understands the more stringent security measures being implemented due to the upcoming ASEAN summit, it worried over the possibility of similar incidents when more participants from other countries arrive in the coming days. The organizers said they "hope that this recent incident will not happen to other foreign delegates to the ACSC/APF."

In a statement, the ACSC/APF said it "regards the participation of foreign delegates in the civil society-led ASEAN forums as crucial in the meaningful intervention of social movements and sectoral groups from Southeast Asia towards forging a socially-responsive ASEAN."

The ACSC/APF has been engaging and recognized by the ASEAN as a civil society platform since its inception at the ASEAN summit in 2005 in Malaysia. The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) have been regularly in touch with the ACSC/APF in the run-up to the summit.

Source: http://www.interaksyon.com/detained-timorese-delegates-to-asean-civil-society-assemblies-released-after-12-hours/

ASEAN to pass on letting East Timor join grouping this year: Kyodo

Kyodo News - November 5, 2017

Bangkok – The Association of Southeast Asian Nations has reached a decision to refrain from admitting East Timor to the regional grouping within the year, it was learned Saturday from ASEAN diplomatic sources.

Amid the 50th anniversary this year of the bloc's founding, there have been repeated discussions on whether or not to let East Timor join as its 11th member.

The former Portuguese colony submitted an application for membership in 2011, but some members have been cool to the idea. Singapore, for example, has voiced concern over the country's lack of human resource capability to cope with the large number of ASEAN meetings.

A feasibility study to assess the country's readiness to join the organization in the areas of its politics and security, economy, and social issues has been completed and the findings are being studied by high-level officials.

Despite receiving oil and gas revenues since 2005, it remains one of the world's poorest countries, with a yawning economic gap with ASEAN member countries.

There had been a possibility of East Timor's membership being put on the agenda of the grouping's summit in November. East Timor Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri recently confirmed that he will attend the ASEAN Summit in the Philippines as an observer.

Source: http://news.abs-cbn.com/news/11/05/17/asean-to-pass-on-letting-east-timor-join-grouping-this-year-kyodo-sources

Mining & energy

Timor-Leste has more unexplored oil resources

Macau Hub - November 6, 2017

Timor-Leste (East Timor) has other oil deposits with potential for commercial exploration in the Greater Sunrise field, which will guarantee production over the next few decades, the Timorese Prime Minister said at a conference in the Australian city of Perth.

Mari Alkatiri said there are "visible signs of underground oil systems in the whole island," with more than 30 locations with oil and gas identified in various parts of the country, during the opening session of the Regional Conference for Asia and the Pacific, which attracted more than 1,000 delegates from dozens of countries, including several members of the governments of Australia, Germany and several nations from Asia and the Pacific region.

"Beyond Oil, there are also non-metallic minerals and metals, with metallic mineral deposits identified to date including manganese, chromium, copper and gold, silver and iron sand (sand with a high concentration of iron)," he said, according to Portuguese news agency Lusa.

Alkatiri, after pointing out that some license had started being awarded in this area, said "the government is eager" for more mining companies to start prospecting to determine the commercial viability of deposits and start extraction.

One of the biggest investments in this sector – estimated at over US$600 million – is the project of a cement plant near Baucau, whose product will reduce domestic production costs and supply markets in Australia and in the region. The development of the south coast, to support the oil sector, investments in the transport network – including the new port of Tibar, on the outskirts of Dili – are other ongoing investments.

Highlighting the impact that natural resources, especially oil, have played in the development of Timor-Leste, Alkatiri said the country has avoided "the dangers of abundance" and that the mineral resources were "a blessing, not a curse" as they had been in other countries.

After the benefits of the Kitan and Bayu Unda fields – whose total revenues amounted to about US$20 billion – Timor-Leste is now preparing for the development of the Greater Sunrise field. (macauhub)

Source: https://macauhub.com.mo/2017/11/06/pt-timor-leste-dispoe-de-mais-recursos-petroliferos-ainda-por-explorar/

Invasion & occupation

Footage of a massacre that changed history of Timor-Leste

Irish Times - November 10, 2017

Mary Boland, Dili - November 12th, 1991. As day breaks, an eerie quiet hangs over Santa Cruz Cemetery in Dili, East Timor.

Among the pretty headstones – some painted white, some sky-blue – the recently dug grave of young Sebastiao Gomes glints like an open wound in the morning sun. Two weeks previously he had been taken from a church and shot by Indonesian troops for his part in the Timorese independence struggle.

The murder of a teenager was not an uncommon act by General Suharto's soldiers, whose occupation of East Timor since 1975 involved summary executions, torture, disappearances, and watching thousands die from starvation.

By 8am, the stillness in the graveyard would turn to panic, then chaos. Volleys of gunshots were heard over screams of people scrambling for cover behind headstones, over the murmur of the rosary being recited in Portuguese. Within minutes the picturesque cemetery was littered with broken bodies: schoolchildren, women and young men had been shot, bayonetted and bludgeoned.

Twenty-six years on, British filmmaker Max Stahl stands at a tombstone and remembers. "That chapel was like a 14th-century scene of hell," he says of the tiny white-washed building where the wounded and terrified lay screaming and praying.

Turning point

Stahl's footage – the only video evidence that exists, smuggled outside the territory days later – would bring about a turning point in the history of East Timor: alerting the world to the atrocities happening there; securing, at last, wide international support for the Timorese cause; and setting this small southeast Asian nation on the path to self-determination.

Before his death, Gomes and other activists had been preparing for a visit by a parliamentary delegation from Portugal, East Timor's long-time coloniser. Lisbon's rule ended there in 1975, a consequence of Portugal's Carnation Revolution in April. By December, within days of the Fretilin party's declaration of independence, neighbouring Indonesia had invaded.

Official visits from outside the territory were rare under Indonesian rule, and few foreigners were allowed in. The prospect of showing the international community what was going on inspired independence campaigners to plan a demonstration. Those who weren't fighting in the mountains beyond the capital – alongside the likes of resistance hero Xanana Gusmao – busied themselves turning bedsheets into banners, and making placards asking the world for help.

The delegation's visit was cancelled, but the activists decided to protest nonetheless. Two weeks after Gomes's burial, Mass was said in his memory in Motael Church, from where a procession set out to pay respects at his grave 2.5km away.

Defiant shouts

Banners were unfurled along the route. On reaching the cemetery, the crowd had grown to several thousand. It was a peaceful protest, punctuated by defiant shouts of "Viva independencia! Viva Timor-Leste! Viva Xanana Gusmao!"

Stahl, one of a few foreign journalists working secretly in the country, filmed the soldiers shooting, beating, and dragging people away. He noticed that victims who could still move were making their way towards him. "They were showing me their wounds," he recalls. "They saw the camera, and they wanted the world to see. They were dying around me, but – and the survivors later told me this – more important than the fact of their dying was that their deaths be meaningful; that all this should be 'for' something."

He was arrested, but not before burying two rolls of film in a grave. That night, having been interrogated for nine hours, he retrieved them. He needed to get the footage out fast. In a development both surprising and ironic, the UN special rapporteur on human rights and torture, who was visiting Dili, refused involvement. Dutch journalist and rights activist Saskia Kouwenberg obliged: she left the country with 10 minutes of film hidden in her underwear.

Independence referendum

Once seen around the world, the images from Santa Cruz ensured an end to East Timor's long isolation. Solidarity groups were formed in many countries, including Ireland, where then-Dublin Bus driver Tom Hyland raised awareness of and support for the Timorese plight. Indonesia came under heavy pressure to allow an independence referendum, which was eventually held in 1999.

No one knows how many were killed in Santa Cruz. Stahl, who runs an audiovisual archive in Dili, estimates 65-100; others say more than 250. Some bodies were found in mass graves; others, it's thought, were dumped at sea. Many families are still without closure.

The Santa Cruz massacre was not Indonesia's final atrocity in East Timor – now officially the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste – but its exposure made it impossible for Jakarta to continue its reign of repression unchallenged. Paradoxically, the mood in the aftermath was one of euphoria, not defeat. Because on November 12th, 1991, the dying of East Timor got their final wish; and those left behind were emboldened to continue the struggle.

Source: https://www.irishtimes.com/news/world/asia-pacific/footage-of-a-massacre-that-changed-history-of-timor-leste-1.3286091?utm_content=buffere5b00&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer

Analysis & opinion

42 years after Timor-Leste's declared independence, a democracy plea

Asia Pacific Report - November 28, 2017

The people of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste will today celebrate the 42nd anniversary of their Declaration of Independence.

For the last 26 of those years, the US-based East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN) has supported their struggle for self-determination.

We stand in solidarity with all the people of Timor-Leste, and do not favour any political party or leader.

The Timorese people are currently facing a challenging time, as an opposition coalition in Parliament challenges the current government's right to govern.

We encourage everyone to put the national interest above personal and partisan interests and to adhere to the Constitution, law, and democratic principles.

ETAN is confident in the strength of Timor-Leste's democratic institutions and in its people's commitment to stability, democracy and justice.

While politicians and commentators in Dili debate legal interpretations and jockey for power, the other 99 percent of the Timorese people are trying to live from day to day.

Public services

They depend on public services like education, health care and safety. Many still lack decent livelihoods and adequate food.

We encourage those in government, Parliament and political parties to design, improve, and carry out programmes to strengthen and diversify Timor-Leste's economy, minimise poverty, decrease unemployment and malnutrition, reduce inequalities, and eliminate corruption.

Addressing these challenges will be the key to long-term stability for the country.

We also encourage every official, public servant and citizen to attend to people's lives and families, without being distracted or paralysed by rumours, partisan maneuvering or anxiety about politics.

The President of the Republic will play a key role in resolving this political impasse, which we hope is over soon. We appreciate the calm way he is carrying out his duties under the Constitution, and we hope that he will continue to promote dialogue among political leaders, elected officials, civil society, ordinary citizens, and others to find the best solution for the entire nation.

We were encouraged by the President's recent meeting with rural women leaders, and hope to see more women included fully in political discussions, including at the highest levels of political leadership.

Many people in Timor-Leste have traumatic memories of the brutal Indonesian occupation, as well as of the intra-Timorese conflicts of 2002 and 2006. However, people have learned from that history, as demonstrated by the largely peaceful last decade.

Moderation, restraint

We appreciate the moderation, restraint, and adherence to law currently exercised by nearly all citizens and by Timor-Leste's police and military, and we expect that this will continue.

Although political rhetoric has sometimes been confrontational, it has not escalated to physical violence. We hope that the leaders and people of Timor-Leste continue to show their commitment to peaceful, democratic processes in a sovereign nation.

During the last 500 years, the small nation of Timor-Leste has often been oppressed, manipulated or exploited by international actors. We urge foreign powers to allow the Timorese people to work out their own problems without outside interference, even as we show our solidarity by encouraging Timor-Leste to follow a peaceful, fair and democratic path.

Yesterday, most people in the United States were celebrating Thanksgiving, a day to be grateful for the good people and things in our lives. We also recall the shameful history of European colonisation, especially the genocide of Native Americans.

ETAN also gives thanks for the sovereignty, democracy and peace that currently prevails in Timor-Leste, but we do not forget the shameful colonisation and occupation which foreign invaders, some supported by the United States government, inflicted on your people.

We recommit ourselves to improve democratic practices in the United States and to work for policies which secure human rights, end impunity, and achieve social and economic justice for both our peoples.

Timor-Leste has made more progress in 42 years than the United States has in 241, but both nations have a long way to go, and ETAN looks forward to the continuing journey

[ETAN was in 2012 awarded the Order of Timor-Leste, the highest honour in the republic, for its "contribution to the liberation of the country". Timor-Leste (East Timor) declared independence from Portugal on 28 November 1975, but was invaded by neighbouring Indonesia nine days later.]

Source: https://asiapacificreport.nz/2017/11/28/42-years-after-timor-lestes-declared-independence-a-democracy-plea/

Book & film reviews

Review: Shameful lust for riches under the Timor Sea

The Interpreter - November 15, 2017

Michael Rose – Laying bare the greed for petroleum resources that has steered five decades of Australian policy regarding East Timor, Kim McGrath's "Crossing the Line" is a masterfully written and researched piece of scholarship.

Australian politicians and policy makers have generally escaped significant public censure for decades of trying to strongarm control over (or some would say outright steal) the one valuable natural resource of their impoverished Timorese neighbours. McGrath shines a light on this dismal record, showing how since the 1960s Canberra has promulgated a grubby mess of diplomatic stratagems broadly aimed at securing access to the oil reserves off Timor's south coast. At different times this has involved the glib dismissal of the right of the East Timorese to self-determination, blatant high-level bullying and turning a blind eye to mass murder.

Few, if any, of these charges are new. But made by emotional partisans of East Timor's cause or reported over decades as acts of stand-alone bastardry, they have not collectively put a dint in the popular and photogenic modern narrative of brave ANZACs stepping ashore to save our tiny neighbour in 1999 and 2006. This book is critically important because in the excellent company of Paul Cleary's Shakedown it presents a more honest and complex summary that rightfully puts Canberra's consistent and often ruthless attempts to control East Timor's oil at its centre.

Even by the standards of international politics, the saga of Timor-Leste's oil is a complicated one. McGrath's primary strength as an author is her skill in rendering this confusing swirl of events into a clear narrative over the course of six concise chapters. The 'line' referred to in the title is the one that marks the halfway point between Australia and the island of Timor – a distance of some 450 kilometres. Ordinarily this would be the basis for dividing sovereignty over the seabed, and any riches that lie beneath.

This might sound relatively simple, but the resources at stake and the complicated politics of East Timor have made it anything but. For hundreds of years the narrow, mountainous island of Timor has been divided into two halves. The western part was Dutch and became part of Indonesia after Second World War. The east was Portuguese territory and remained so until Lisbon abandoned their colony in 1975, followed soon after by an Indonesian invasion.

When Canberra and Jakarta established a seabed boundary in the Timor Sea in 1972, a gap was left in the area below Portuguese Timor. If the boundary set at that time had followed a median line, this might not have been significant but aware that substantial petroleum reserves existed in the area, Australian negotiators successfully argued for one that ran closer to the coast of Timor, placing undersea oil deposits on the Australian side. As for the un-demarcated area, Australian diplomats reasoned that East Timor becoming part of Indonesia was inevitable, and when this happened, 'it would be a simple exercise to close the Timor Gap with a ruler', neatly acquiring the wealth within.

Things didn't go to plan. The decline of Portuguese rule in Timor was matched by the rise of a popular nationalism in the colony. It became clear that for most East Timorese there was nothing 'inevitable' about integration with Indonesia.

After its invasion the Indonesian military cracked down on the independence movement with characteristically self-defeating overkill, inflicting massacres, aerial bombardments and deliberately-induced famine on those who resisted. Knowing what was happening, but conscious that too much open criticism of their giant neighbour would imperil their chances of closing the Timor Gap, Australian authorities mostly ignored or suppressed news of atrocities. In 1983 the Hawke government in Canberra resurrected a position first tabled by Fraser in 1978 and went so far to offer Indonesia de jure recognition of their occupation in the hope this would make it possible for a favourable deal to be reached.

Sickeningly, this betrayal eventually did make it possible for Australia to get more or less what it wanted. In 1989, Australia and Indonesia agreed to jointly exploit East Timor's oil. The number of Timorese victims of the war still raging at this time are unreliably counted, but thought to be between 100,000 and 200,000. In 1999, Jakarta's brutal grip on East Timor was discredited and Canberra's cynical diplomatic manoeuvring came to naught. By 2002, Australia found itself once again negotiating over the Timor Gap, this time with representatives of an independent Timor-Leste whose prospects for existence it had once so coldly dismissed.

The closing chapters of the book show how after 2002, seemingly without shame for the way they had treated its people for the past fifty years, Canberra sought to take advantage of Timor-Leste's precarious post-conflict state, seeking not only to ensure that the possibility of a median line seabed boundary was taken off the table, but resorting to espionage and outright bullying to do so.

This book went to press before the conclusion of the recent negotiations between Australia and Timor-Leste, in which central elements of a mutually acceptable maritime boundary were reportedly agreed. The details are yet to be publicly announced and the political situation in Dili uncertain, so it remains to be seen whether the dismal tale of the Timor Gap is at an end.

McGrath concludes optimistically. She notes the historical success of the Timorese in advocating for their interests against tremendous odds and quoting the Reverend Martin Luther King's observation that the long moral arc of history bends towards justice. A committed supporter of Timor-Leste, the author's passion and optimism for its cause shines through. There are other perspectives from which her subject might be considered, including a more critical view of the ways in which Timor-Leste's leaders have used the oil revenue, or that of the Timorese street.

Yet for anyone interested in understanding exactly how Australian greed has shaped its policy towards East Timor, Crossing the Line makes for indispensable reading

Source: https://www.lowyinstitute.org/the-interpreter/review-shameful-lust-riches-under-timor-sea

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