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East Timor News Digest 12 – December 1-31, 2017

Timor Sea dispute Political parties & elections Health & education Women's rights & gender Development & infrastructure Economy & investment Balibo five Invasion & occupation Analysis & opinion Book & film reviews

Timor Sea dispute

Australia and East Timor to sign new deal after sea border row

Agence France Presse - December 27, 2017

The Hague – Australia and East Timor will sign a new treaty next year setting maritime boundaries in an effort to settle lingering disputes over lucrative oil and gas fields in the East Timor Sea.

The accord "addresses the legal status of the Greater Sunrise gas field... a pathway to the development of the resource, and the sharing of the resulting revenue," the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration said on Tuesday.

"The two governments agreed that they will proceed with signature in early March 2018," the PCA said in a statement.

East Timor in 2016 dragged Australia before the PCA -­ the world's oldest arbitration tribunal -­ to help end the dispute that has soured relations between the two countries.

East Timor, which gained independence from Indonesian occupation in 2002, is impoverished and depends heavily on oil and gas exports.

In 2006, it signed the Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea (CMATS) treaty with Australia, which also covers the vast Greater Sunrise gas field between the two nations, worth billions of dollars.

But East Timor wanted that treaty torn up after accusing Australia of spying to gain commercial advantage during the negotiations.

Dili officially dropped a separate spying case against Canberra before the U.N.'s highest International Court of Justice in June 2015 after Australia returned sensitive documents.

In January, the two neighbors announced that the CMATS treaty would be terminated and a new pact negotiated through the PCA. They agreed on a new draft treaty in October, after months of behind-closed-doors talks.

"In broad terms, the draft treaty delimits the maritime boundary between Timor-Leste and Australia in the Timor Sea and establishes a Special Regime for the area comprising the Greater Sunrise gas field," the PCA said.

"The draft treaty also establishes revenue sharing arrangements where the shares of upstream revenue allocated to each of the Parties will differ depending on downstream benefits associated with the different development concepts for the Greater Sunrise gas field," it said.

The precise details of the treaty are expected to be made public once Australia and East Timor have finished "consulting with private actors potentially affected by the new boundary."

Source: https://www.dawn.com/news/1379103

Timor-Leste's lawyer warns gas treaty deadline may be wishful

ABC Radio Australia - December 29, 2017

Tom Iggulden, staff – After almost 20 years, could the battle of lucrative gas fields in the Timor Sea be over?

Australia and Timor-Leste – also known as East Timor – have been given until March to finalise a draft treaty signed earlier this year.

But legal adviser to Timor-Leste Bernard Collaery has said that could be wishful thinking and that any treaty would need to be signed off by the nation's parliament.

Prime Minister Mari Alkatari's minority Government could be forced to fight an election early next year after increasing calls for parliament to be dissolved.

"That's hardly the environment in which a treaty may have an easy passage through the local parliament in Dili," Mr Collaery said.

A spokesman for Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said final negotiations were confidential.

Timor-Leste initiated the compulsory conciliation process in 2016 in a bid to force Australia to negotiate a permanent maritime boundary.

In January, 2017, Timor-Leste terminated its 2006 treaty with Australia, which split revenue from the Greater Sunrise field 50/50 and delayed negotiations over a permanent maritime boundary for 50 years.

The country claimed the treaty was invalid because of allegations that Australia spied on cabinet ministers during negotiations to divide the oil and gas fields.

The two sides agreed on a draft treaty in September this year on maritime boundaries cutting through the $50 billion Greater Sunrise gas fields.

Former Timor-Leste president Xanana Gusmao said at the time the "long and at times difficult" process had helped the country achieve its dream of "full sovereignty and to finally settle our maritime boundaries with Australia".

Mr Collaery said with China's influence on the rise in the Asia Pacific, it was in Australia's interest to be generous. "We've got a strong defence and national security interest in Timor being happy with the outcome," he said.

Source: http://www.radioaustralia.net.au/international/2017-12-29/timorlestes-lawyer-warns-gas-treaty-deadline-may-be-wishful-thinking/1726206

Australia, Timor to sign new deal after sea border row

SBS News - December 27, 2017

Australia and East Timor will sign a new treaty next year setting maritime boundaries in an effort to settle lingering disputes over lucrative oil and gas fields in the East Timor Sea.

The accord "addresses the legal status of the Greater Sunrise gas field... a pathway to the development of the resource, and the sharing of the resulting revenue," the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration said on Tuesday.

"The two governments agreed that they will proceed with signature in early March 2018," the PCA said in a statement.

East Timor in 2016 dragged Australia before the PCA – the world's oldest arbitration tribunal – to help end the dispute that has soured relations between the two countries.

East Timor, which gained independence from Indonesian occupation in 2002, is impoverished and depends heavily on oil and gas exports.

In 2006, it signed the Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea (CMATS) treaty with Australia, which also covers the vast Greater Sunrise gas field between the two nations, worth billions of dollars.

But East Timor wanted that treaty torn up after accusing Australia of spying to gain commercial advantage during the negotiations.

Dili officially dropped a separate spying case against Canberra before the UN's highest International Court of Justice in June 2015 after Australia returned sensitive documents.

In January, the two neighbours announced that the CMATS treaty would be terminated and a new pact negotiated through the PCA. They agreed on a new draft treaty in October, after months of behind-closed-doors talks.

"In broad terms, the draft treaty delimits the maritime boundary between Timor-Leste and Australia in the Timor Sea and establishes a Special Regime for the area comprising the Greater Sunrise gas field," the PCA said.

"The draft treaty also establishes revenue sharing arrangements where the shares of upstream revenue allocated to each of the Parties will differ depending on downstream benefits associated with the different development concepts for the Greater Sunrise gas field," it said.

The precise details of the treaty are expected to be made public once Australia and East Timor have finished "consulting with private actors potentially affected by the new boundary." (AFP-SBS)

Source: https://www.sbs.com.au/news/australia-timor-to-sign-new-deal-after-sea-border-row

Why Australia and East Timor are struggling to strike a maritime

World Politics Review - December 15, 2017

Despite announcing a breakthrough in their protracted negotiations over a maritime boundary in August, Australia and East Timor have yet to finalize an agreement that would allow them to move forward on the joint development of an important natural gas field.

The delay is in part due to the difficulties of conducting a trilateral negotiation involving the two governments as well as private interests. In an email interview, Bec Strating, a lecturer in the department of politics and philosophy at La Trobe University in Australia focusing on Indonesia and East Timor, which is also known as Timor-Leste, explains the background to the maritime dispute and how crucial the natural gas field in question is to East Timor's flagging economy.

WPR: What is at stake in the maritime dispute between Australia and East Timor, and why has the process of finalizing an agreement stalled?

Bec Strating: There are a number of elements in the dispute regarding maritime boundaries and the development of hydrocarbon resources in the Timor Sea. With regard to the former issue, Australia has preferred delaying the delimitation of permanent maritime boundaries, while East Timor has more recently pushed for permanent boundaries. In 2006, East Timor and Australia agreed to a 50-year moratorium on maritime boundary delimitation in an agreement known as CMATS, which was designed to develop a contested but lucrative natural gas field in the Timor Sea called Greater Sunrise. The agreement laid out a revenue-sharing deal whereby Australia and East Timor would each receive 50 percent of the gas revenues.

However, the CMATS agreement also put aside the issue of how the field would be developed. East Timor wanted a pipeline to run from the field to its south coast in order to process the gas there, but the commercial venture partners deemed this unviable. Ultimately, this impasse led to East Timor's leaders renewing their pursuit of permanent maritime boundaries as leverage to advance its interests on the pipeline.

Currently, both states are in talks as part of a compulsory conciliation process initiated by East Timor in April 2016. As part of this process, East Timor has dropped the international court cases it had brought against Australia, and in return Australia assented to dissolving the CMATS agreement.

In August it was announced that Australia and East Timor had reached a breakthrough on the issue of a maritime boundary, agreeing to the central elements for permanent boundary delimitation. A treaty text has yet to be made publically available, but is reportedly ready to be signed and ratified by the states. The main issue, however, remains the development plan for Greater Sunrise. The agreement on boundaries hinges upon whether East Timor, Australia and the commercial partners can reach an agreement on how the gas from the field can be developed.

If East Timor's representatives continue to press for a pipeline, then the whole deal could come unstuck. Given that the talks are confidential, it is difficult to assess how they are progressing.

WPR: How important is the Greater Sunrise natural gas field to both countries, and how have the private partners developing the field influenced negotiations?

Strating: The gas field is far more important for East Timor than Australia in terms of economics. Around 90 percent of East Timor's state budget relies on oil and gas revenues from the Timor Sea, in a development area known as the Joint Petroleum Development Area, or JPDA. The resources in this area are expected to run out in the early 2020s, leaving East Timor without a significant income stream aside from its petroleum fund, which has over $16 billion but is being quickly depleted. Based on current spending trends, East Timor may be broke within a decade. Around 80 percent of the country's GDP is generated by oil and gas­East Timor's next biggest export, coffee, generates only around $15 million a year­making it one of the world's most oil-dependent nations. So its short- and mid-term economic viability depend upon the development of Greater Sunrise gas.

However, in terms of strategic interests, Australia has not wanted to engage in boundary delimitation with East Timor because it fears that it will open the door for Indonesia to try and unravel the maritime boundaries between Indonesia and Australia. These boundaries were drawn in the era before the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS, which means that Australia was able to persuade Indonesia to accept a line closer to Indonesia's coastline due to the principle of natural prolongation. Post-UNCLOS, the accepted principle is the median line, which, if applied, would drag that boundary closer to Australia.

The role of the commercial venture partners is significant. Currently, the consortium led by Australia-based petroleum company Woodside Petroleum has been instrumental in blocking East Timor's plan for development on the grounds that it is commercially unviable. Many oil and gas experts agree with Woodside that the pipeline and the south coast processing centers would cost more than they would provide in social and economic benefits, and that the best options are to use the existing facility based in Darwin, Australia, and to employ a floating platform for processing the gas. Australia has effectively deferred to the venture partners­if it is not deemed commercially viable by them, then Australia will not support it. This makes this a fascinating case study in an international trilateral negotiation held effectively between two states and a commercial consortium.

WPR: How have East Timor's internal politics affected negotiations with Australia, and how do you anticipate this playing out?

Strating: The first thing to note here is that East Timor's lead negotiator is Xanana Gusmao, a former president and prime minister who is currently the leader of the opposition coalition, as well as minister of planning and strategic investment. That an opposition leader is heading the negotiations indicates the unity of the different parties on the issue of the Timor Sea, as well as Gusmao's status in Timorese politics as a liberation hero. An agreement without Gusmao would likely fail, as he remains a powerful figure among the Timorese public. At the moment it appears that negotiations have continued on as they had before East Timor's parliamentary elections, which were held in July, although I must stress that the talks are highly confidential, so things may not be as they appear.

In this way, the negotiations have been somewhat divorced from the internal chaos that has stemmed from those elections, in which no party managed to secure a majority. The party that received the plurality vote, FRETILIN, has been unable to pass its national program through parliament, which potentially sets the scene for a constitutional crisis. How this might impact the negotiations is unclear, however. In any event, it seems that there are a number of challenges that need to be circumvented before the treaty text on maritime boundaries will be signed and ratified.

Source: https://www.worldpoliticsreview.com/trend-lines/23840/why-australia-and-east-timor-are-struggling-to-strike-a-maritime-boundary

Political parties & elections

Timor-Leste's 'government of national disunity'

East Asia Forum - December 30, 2017

Damien Kingsbury – A year that started so well for Timor-Leste has ended badly. The country is in a constitutional crisis, its minority government had refused to reconvene the Parliament and there is the prospect of another round of elections in 2018.

There were presidential and parliamentary elections in Timor-Leste in 2017, both of which were peaceful. The election outcomes indicated that the country's 'government of national unity' (which was made up of the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) and Fretilin) would continue. In it, a younger generation of political leaders was expected to be taking over from the 'Generation of '75'. What happened instead is that Timor-Leste's controversial first prime minister Mari Alkatiri resumed his former office heading a Fretilin-led minority government. How had this come to pass?

Under Timor-Leste's constitution, the president can choose as prime minister either the person who heads a majority in the Parliament or the head of the party that has received the most votes. The second option does not require that person's party have gained a majority.

President Francisco 'Lu-Olo' Guterres as a loyal Fretilin member chose the latter and appointed his political colleague Mari Alkatiri as prime minister -­ even though a majority opposition coalition had formed a political alliance and asked Guterres to make them the government instead. When he refused, the majority alliance responded by voting down the government's program and associated budget. Requiring a budget, he eventually relented, and the inevitable defeat ensued.

If the opposition votes down the government's program a second time, it automatically triggers new elections. To forestall that outcome, in November and into December, Prime Minister Alkatiri refused to reconvene the Parliament and claimed that the opposition alliance was attempting to stage a 'coup'.

The fractious falling out between the government and the opposition in part reflected a change in the terms of an earlier agreement between Alaktiri and CNRT leader Xanana Gusmao on the formation of a new national unity government. This falling out was compounded by the fact that Alkatiri managed to alienate both the Popular Liberation Party and smaller youth-oriented KHUNTO party after each had agreed to join Fretilin in government.

Even the Democratic Party (which ended up in coalition with Fretilin in the minority government) had initially rejected such a coalition arrangement. In each case, party leaders complained of a 'lack of inclusion' ­ a reflection of Alkatiri's controlling political style.

The impasse between the government and opposition was also due in part to the personalities of Alkatiri and Gusmao. Both are dominant and dominating political figures. Both are autocratic in their political style and have a long history of animosity that was papered over by the establishment of the government of national unity in 2015.

What Timor-Leste has witnessed is a clash of egos more than a clash of policy or ideology. Alkatiri had long wanted to return to the office taken from him in 2006 when he was forced to resign. Gusmao had only been content not being prime minister so long as he retained final decision-making power as he had under the national unity government.

The slump in his CNRT party's support was what led to Gusmao losing control. Support for the CNRT fell from over 36 per cent in 2012 to just under 30 per cent. Critically, the CNRT received 0.2 per cent less of the vote than Fretilin, which gave it one less seat in the Parliament.

The appointment of Alkatiri ran contrary to the previous government's move to a younger (and less controversial) prime ministerial candidate: Fretilin's Rui Araujo. On the strength of a 0.2 per cent majority, Alkatiri claimed the prime ministership and broke the understanding he had with Gusmao that this position would be handed to a younger politician.

The CNRT, the Popular Liberation Party and KHUNTO -­ together forming the 'Parliamentary Majority Alliance' -­ hold 35 of the Parliament's 65 seats as opposed to the Fretilin – Democratic Party government's 30 seats.

Timor-Leste's parliamentary legislation requires the Parliament to meet weekly, and its failure to do so in November and early December led to the Parliamentary Majority Alliance claiming that the government is now 'unconstitutional'.

Beyond that, the country's budget is decided on a calendar-year rather than a financial-year basis. As a result, the government could choose to enter 2018 having run out of money or to bite the bullet and reconvene parliament. It was finally forced to do the latter out of necessity. Both sides of the Parliament and their supporters are now deeply (and seemingly irrevocably) entrenched in their opposing positions.

The Parliament reconvened towards the end of the year to try to cover what would have been a budgetary shortfall. It did so and was again voted down triggering new elections.

Elections cannot be called within six months of previous elections, which means elections cannot be called before 22 January 2018. Short of an improbable reconciliation, elections could then be expected to be held in April of that year. Given the deteriorating political environment in Timor-Leste, if new elections are held, they and the their lead up are unlikely to reflect the peace and harmony that characterised those of 2017.

[Damien Kingsbury is Personal Chair and Professor of International Politics at Deakin University and Coordinator of the Australia Timor-Leste Election Observer Mission. This article is part of an EAF special feature series on 2017 in review and the year ahead.]

Source: http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2017/12/30/timor-lestes-government-of-national-disunity/

Resistance leaders' sway still strong in Timor

Radio New Zealand International - December 21, 2017

Sally Round – Timor Leste could face another election next year after the new government suffered a defeat in parliament on Tuesday.

Among the factors at play, according to observers, are the old rivalries between leaders of the resistance to the 24-year Indonesian occupation which ended in 1999.

Fifteen years after Timor Leste proclaimed independence in 2002 the old guard continues to play a major part in present day politics.

Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri's Fretilin party narrowly won the July 2017 legislative election but his minority government has been unable to pass a budget or programme for the coming term in the face of strong opposition from an alliance of parties led by the charismatic Xanana Gusmao and another former guerilla leader, Taur Matan Ruak.

The president of the Republic, Francisco "Lu Olo" Guterres, who has the power to call an election, is also a former guerilla fighter and Fretilin politician.

As well as influential, the old guard is fragmented. The "Government of National Inclusion" which ruled in the previous term has fractured and, according to Timorese journalist Raimundos Oki, long-standing rivalries have come even more to the fore.

"That's why Mari Alkatiri is not able to set up the government because the current prime minister... he was overseas for 24 years but Xanana and Taur Matan Ruak, they (were) in the bush, using guns and fighting against the Indonesians for 24 years."

Mr Alkatiri, also a member of the so-called Generation of '75, spent several decades living in exile in Mozambique during the struggle for independence.

Raimundos Oki said while resistance leaders employed the same clandestine tactics they used in the jungle, the Timorese have remained calm.

"Politically, there is tension at the high level... but the local people, they are very smart. They let the politicians fight one another, but importantly for us, we do not fight each other."

According to the chief whip in Taur Matan Ruak's PLP, Fidelis Magalhaes, the former fighters were abiding by the rules which was helping solidify Timore Leste's young democracy.

"They carry with them not only strong historical credentials, but they have been tested in the field and people know that they can trust the resistance leaders because they've proven themselves to the people," he said.

He said their camaraderie remained strong and it was good for the country. "We cannot simply just ignore resistance leaders by saying that their presence is no longer useful for the country.

The younger politician, Fidelis Magalhaes, sees their presence in parliament as a great opportunity.

"This is one perhaps of few opportunities we have to engage them in politics, now, while they are still around and we are in no hurry to replace them or to substitute them but we see it as as an opportunity where we can learn and we can begin to show to the people that there are alternatives in the long-run and I think the leaders of Timor-Leste provide that space for us."

A researcher with the think tank La'o Humutuk, Juvinal Diaz, surmised that the old guard had five years to free Timorese from poverty before they risked falling from power.

"Some leaders were very revolutionary but today they are very pragmatic. Some people were very honest but today, because of the power they change... to be opportunistic," said Mr Diaz.

[Sally Round travelled to Timor-Leste as winner of the VSA Excellence in Journalism Award.]

Source: https://www.radionz.co.nz/international/pacific-news/346702/resistance-leaders-sway-still-strong-in-timor

East Timor parliament rejects government budget second time

Associated Press - December 20, 2017

Raimundos Oki, Dili, East Timor – A political crisis is looming in East Timor after a coalition of opposition parties rejected the new government's policy program for a second time.

A two-day parliamentary debate over the government's amended budget, which was increased to $1.61 billion from the 2017 budget of $1.39 billion, ended with most members of the ruling coalition walking out late Tuesday.

The Parliamentary Majority Alliance, or AMP, the country's opposition with 35 seats in the 65-member parliament, then voted to reject the budget just before midnight.

It was the second defeat suffered by the government after its policy program was rejected on Oct. 19. Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri said Wednesday that he will keep fighting, as his party officials accused the opposition of trying to overthrow the government.

"Once again the opposition with their own boat will lead them to a defeat. Let's fight to win!" Alkatiri said. "If they dance in the House, we shall dance in the streets."

Alkatiri's Fretilin party formed a minority government after parliamentary elections in July failed to give any party a majority of seats. But his opponents argued that the minority government was unconstitutional and that his policy program didn't address the young country's problems.

New elections are a possibility if Alkatiri's coalition is unable to pass a budget.

Previously, Fretilin was part of a national unity government with the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction party of independence hero Xanana Gusmao, or CNRT. In the July election, CNRT lost support and Fretilin narrowly became the largest party, but failed to agree on a new grand coalition.

AMP consists of three opposition parties – CNRT, the People's Liberation Party and Kmanek Habiras National Unity Timor Oan or KHUNTO.

CNRT party spokesman Arao Noe de Jesus said the government's amended budget is unlawful. "Priorities for the people and the nation were not reflected in the 2018 state budget," he said.

East Timor, a former Portuguese colony, was occupied by Indonesia for a quarter century. It gained independence after a U.N.-sponsored referendum in 1999. Indonesia's military responded to the referendum with scorched-earth attacks that devastated the East Timorese half of the island of Timor.

Today, the country of 1.3 million people still faces desperate poverty. Leaders have focused on big-ticket infrastructure projects to develop the economy, funding them from a dwindling supply of former oil riches, but progress is slow.

The July vote was East Timor's first parliamentary election without U.N. supervision since peacekeepers left in 2012.

Source: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/east-timor-parliament-rejects-government-budget-second-time/2017/12/20/f7c40b42-e56d-11e7-927a-e72eac1e73b6_story.html

Health & education

East Timor considering contraceptives ban for unmarried women and

ABC News - December 12, 2017

Anne Barker – East Timor's Government is deciding whether to adopt a controversial new policy that would ban contraceptives for anyone except married couples.

A draft family-planning policy before the Government in Dili would force unmarried women and girls to use only natural methods which many argue increase the risks of unwanted pregnancy, particularly among young and poorly educated women.

In a country where teenage pregnancy rates are already high, women's groups are alarmed at the potential impact if the policy is adopted. Teenage girls in East Timor have a one-in-four chance of giving birth by the time they are 19.

The devoutly Catholic country has one of the highest fertility rates in the world at 5.6 – meaning the average Timorese woman will have between five and six children. And teenage pregnancy rates mean many children are born to a mother who herself is still an adolescent.

"About one out of five girls are married actually before the age of 18. They're marrying young and 50 per cent of them already have a child by the time they're 20," said John Pile, who heads the United Nations Population Fund (UNPF) in Dili.

"Frequently it's pregnancy followed by marriage and then the child. And that seems to be much more the issue than marriage then pregnant and child." Women's groups fear natural method risky

The policy would ban contraceptives for anyone but married couples. Unmarried women and teenage girls would instead be directed to use the Billings method, where a woman uses her own monthly cycle to calculate which days are safe to have unprotected sex.

"The new family planning program will reduce the incidence of pregnancy and... reduce the risk of abortions," the program states, citing God and the Catholic church in its recommendations.

"The natural Billings method allows for the dignification of human life and respect for cultural and religious values such as God's creation."

But women's groups have said the Billings method is highly risky, given how little most Timorese girls are taught about sex or pregnancy. Some girls and young women do not even know they are pregnant until many months in.

A report published earlier this year cited one young woman who only discovered she was pregnant at seven months when she "felt something moving inside my tummy".

Although contraceptives are not always readily accessible, women's groups and the UN fear an outright ban would force even more girls into early marriage. "Because of teenage pregnancy they will drop out from school," said Fatima Soares, the women and girls participation program manager at Plan International.

"They will not access education any more. They will stay at home, they will take care of their children. And they will do domestic work."

Cultural attitudes in East Timor difficult for young women

The report, jointly produced by Plan and the UNFPA, identified teenage pregnancy rates as a major contributor to maternal death, infant mortality and malnutrition.

"Complications linked to pregnancy and childbirth comprise the second cause of death for 15 to 19-year-old girls globally," it said.

"In addition, the mortality rate for children born to teenage girls is much higher, with babies more likely to have a low birth weight, and facing a greater risk of malnourishment and underdevelopment.

"These results are also reflected in data from Timor-Leste, which shows that teenage mothers aged 15 to 19 years die nearly twice as much as mothers aged 20 to 24 years."

Three babies, worlds apart

In Kenya, in Washington and in Jerusalem, the rhythms of childbirth are the same. And yet, so much is different. Mr Pile said cultural attitudes in East Timor made it difficult for girls to continue their education if they fall pregnant.

"Even though there's a policy to have them continue schooling, frequently they're pulled out of school – either by their family or frequently the schools themselves feel they're protecting the girl by not exposing her to the school environment where she might be ostracised for falling pregnant," Mr Pile said.

"So the impact is both: girls are getting pregnant and it limits their ability to continue their education."

Attitudes towards dating also make it difficult for girls to control their sexuality. "In East Timor there is no culture of dating," he said.

"There is not a safe environment for adolescent boys and girls to develop friendships – platonic or romantic – so if you become friends it's frequently perceived that it has to be romantic, and pressured into a setting of making it revolve around sexuality.

"Girls don't have a lot of agency to negotiate. You see women and girls frequently talked into having sex with their partner, as in 'if you truly love me you should be able to show it'.

"And often it's not so much coercion, but [women] accept that because they also perceive that's their future. From their perspective they'd like to be married, have a family. It's their goal."

UN and young women raising concerns about policy

The policy was promoted by former health minister Maria do Ceu Sarmento, a devout Catholic who is no longer in government and could not be contacted by the ABC.

The United Nations has lobbied the new Government to abandon the policy. It said banning contraceptives for unmarried women would contravene basic human rights.

Young women too have said the policy must be changed. "Young people should have access to contraception because young people are the most affected and have the biggest problems if they fall pregnant," 19-year-old Elfia Sarmento said.

Odelia da Luz Vargas, 18, said girls also needed better sex education. "Many girls my age are already married. The first reason is that they don't have access to information," she said. "Students and young people need to get a better understanding of sexual reproductive health education."

The ABC sought comment from the Timorese Government, but there was no response. The current Health Minister, and former prime minister, Rui de Araujo, was uncontactable.

But it is understood the new government elected in August is reviewing the policy and has made some changes. However, it is yet to reveal whether it will adopt or scrap the ban on contraceptives for unmarried women.

Source: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-12-12/east-timor-might-ban-contraceptives-for-unmarried-women-girls/9247490

Women's rights & gender

The female guerrillas denied liberation long after Timor-Leste's

The Guardian - December 29, 2017

Vincent Bevins, Dili – Madalena Vidal Soares joined the armed resistance movement shortly after Indonesia invaded her country in 1975.

She became active in its women's organisation, where she promoted equal rights and railed against domestic violence, forced prostitution and polygamy. The country was deeply patriarchal after hundreds of years of Portuguese colonial rule. She saw fighting for equality as a natural part of her struggle as a leftwing guerrilla.

In 2002, when a new, independent country was finally formed, the ascension of the rebels and their allies to power didn't automatically lead to women's liberation. Fifteen years later, there's still a lot of fighting to be done, she says.

"Some things are a lot better than before, but some serious problems remain. Violence has not left our homes, for example," says Soares, who used the government pension she received for the many years she spent in the jungle to create a network of schools near her home outside Timor-Leste's capital, Dili.

"I knew education was essential for giving the next generation the best shot," she says, even though she didn't receive a formal education herself. Some of the schools have been incorporated into the country's public education system.

The 2002 constitution enshrines equal rights for men and women. By law, women are guaranteed at least a third of seats in parliament – and with 38% of seats occupied by women, one of the world's youngest democracies has one of Asia's highest female participation rates. However, how much power they have to make decisions is another matter. They hold few leadership positions.

Women face serious challenges. Between 40% and 60% of Timor-Leste's women have experienced some type of violence. Only 21% of women are in the labour force, compared with 40% of men, and they only lead 5% of the country's village councils. While women are guaranteed full property rights by law, in practice society dictates that land is controlled by men. And women can lose de facto rights if their husband dies or the marriage ends. Government benefits awarded for the sacrifices made during the independence struggle are mostly going to men, even though women's contributions were fundamental.

Former resistance fighters and a new generation of women are now taking on these challenges. And the challenges are many, in a cash-strapped young nation with a dark past: the Indonesian occupation killed an estimated 25% of the country's population, and when the military left in 1999, it demolished the capital and murdered dozens of its citizens as payback for voting them out.

For Sunita Carminha, head of UN Women in Dili, the past 15 years have seen the women's movement making headway. "There's been a lot of progress in terms of legislation passed and international commitments made on gender equality that are a continuation of women's participation in the resistance," she says. "And the government has taken continuous steps to implement the commitments. The question is to what extent that has translated into a changed reality."

Women played a crucial role in the independence struggle. While men, alongside women like Soares, made up the majority of the armed guerrillas, controlling territory in the hills and jungles, women made up more than 60% of the clandestinos, according to former resistance fighters and current officials. These secret support networks operated in plain sight, and would smuggle supplies and information to the rebels.

The country is full of tales of these women tricking Indonesian soldiers, stealing their weapons or supplies and passing them along to independence fighters. Timor-Leste is also very full of stories – often suppressed – of the widespread violence and sexual abuse women suffered at the hands of the Indonesian military or paramilitary militias.

So far, the government has implemented a robust programme that distributes pension payments to veterans of the armed struggle. But the clandestinos get no such payments. Meanwhile, a national reparation programme that would provide trauma counselling and aim to empower the country's most vulnerable women has been shelved by the parliament.

"We are doing this crucial work [trauma counselling] now, as well as we can. But we don't have all the resources we need to address the full problem," said Manuela Leong Pereira, head of Assosiasaun Chega! ba Ita (Enough! for Us), an organisation putting into practice some of the country's 2005 Enough! truth and reconciliation report.

The report was the result of years of work by the country's commission for reception, truth and reconciliation. It painstakingly documented abuses and made bold recommendations. These objectives are still a framework for the goals many activists hope to achieve, but few have been implemented fully. In addition to cost, there was also the desire to avoid antagonising Timor-Leste's neighbours and hesitance to confront abuses committed during Indonesia's decades-long occupation.

Pereira says survivors often have to deal with feelings of shame as well as even greater social discrimination than most women experience. "Parliament just didn't have the political will to get the law [for trauma counselling] passed," she adds.

For the moment, parliament is locked in a very different struggle. In the first election held since UN observers left the country, the coalition led by the Fretilin party – the same that Soares joined in 1975 – failed to win an outright majority in this year's election and a solution is still being sought to form a working government.

Dili is making slow progress on a rights deal with Australia required to develop an offshore gas field, one of the country's few likely sources of major revenue in the mid-term. And diplomatically, Timor-Leste remains a tiny, almost forgotten country sandwiched between a nation that invaded it (Indonesia) and another (Australia) whose diplomatic acquiescence allowed the occupation.

As this young democracy goes through growing pains, some women are operating outside the political sphere. Bella Galhos, who has lived in Canada and was one of a few women with an influential role in the diaspora, now runs Santana Unipessoal, an organisation seeking to provide basic necessities for at-risk communities and help build socially effective small businesses. The diaspora was an essential prong of the resistance to occupation.

"When we were involved in the resistance, my idea of our own country was not just a flag and a national anthem, but above all having food and not depending on other people. If your belly is dependent on someone else, that's not independence," says Galhos, who is also one of the country's few public advocates for LGBT rights.

Though Santana is not exclusively a women's empowerment organisation, it often deals directly with women. "Women and youth are the most vulnerable groups, especially in rural areas. Most resources in this country still simply belong to men," adds Galhos, who is back in Timor-Leste.

Part of the reason for that is women's contributions to the independence struggle are not put at the centre of history, where they belong, says Lourdes Alves Araujo, head of the Organizacao Popular das Mulheres da Timor, the women's wing of Fretilin. Among its projects is a forthcoming book that does exactly that.

"Often since the war ended, it's been mostly men who have had their stories told and their images presented to the country," says Araujo. "But many of our leaders and heroes were women, and it's important to recover that history and make it right."

[Additional reporting by Raimundos Oki and Zevonia Vieira.]

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2017/dec/29/female-guerrillas-denied-liberation-timor-leste-war-independence

Development & infrastructure

Insight: Rebuilding Timor-Leste

Radio New Zealand International - December 17, 2017

Timor-Leste's youth bulge presents huge opportunities for the still fragile country, 15 years after independence from Indonesia's brutal occupation.

New Zealand is still helping to support the country, after peacekeepers finally left in 2012 following violent civil conflict. Significant challenges remain but, as RNZ Pacific's Sally Round discovered, efforts are underway to diversify the economy and young people are trying to put their fraught and traumatic past behind them.

All along the foreshore of the capital, Dili, there are bodies. Stretching, pumping, kicking and running, everyone seems to be part of a fitness craze.

It is an unexpected sight for the first time visitor used to headlines about Timor-Leste's fraught and traumatic past.

The south east Asian nation is experiencing a youth explosion and these young people seem to be pulsing with energy and potential.

They are the first generation to have grown up under independence, after centuries of Portuguese rule and 25 years of brutal Indonesian occupation.

New Zealand troops helped support peace in the country and 15 years on continues to support it with more than $17m of aid annually.

Timor-Leste's been living off the bounty from oil fields to its south, but there's consensus diversifying the economy and attracting private investors is crucial for Timor-Leste's future.

"People before us, generations before us, all they did was to fight," said Mimi Pinto, an actor who helps spread the anti-violence message through theatre productions with the organisation Ba Futuru.

"So now that we got our chance after all those times of fighting, fighting, struggles, hunger and also slavery, it's a chance for us to grow."

At the Xanana Gusmao Reading Room, a study centre in Dili, students come to practice English, read newspapers, use computers and discuss their future.

"A number of students who graduated from university, they find it hard to get a job because industries in Timor still don't exist, and... skills are hard for them to get," one student said.

"Right now unemployment is everywhere," said another. "I have a dream. I want to become a doctor," a young woman said. "Many children in my village have malnutrition... so it's a strong motivation for me."

Sixty percent of Timorese are under the age of 25. The birth rate has been declining, though, and combined with a growing number of working-age adults, researchers shows Timor-Leste has a window of opportunity for a so-called "demographic dividend" to drive growth.

But careful policy choices are needed to achieve the growth attained by other countries in Asia.

A former prime minister and now Minister of Health, Rui Maria de Araujo, acknowledged huge challenges remain 15 years after independence.

"Developing the human capital for the country in order to support the socio-economic development is the biggest challenge that we are facing," he said.

Dr Araujo said the government, elected in July, was focusing on improving the quality of services to the people. "We've tried as much as possible to focus on education; some good results are coming up," he said.

"But compounded to that every year we have 15 to 20,000 coming out of schools and universities who find themselves in a difficult situation of not having jobs."

A stalemate in parliament means the minority government's policies are on hold, and the people may have to go to the polls again next year.

Timor-Leste lives overwhelmingly off oil and gas from the Timor Sea, through its Petroleum Fund, now worth about $23bn, but predicted to run dry in the next decade.

It's been dipping deeper into the fund to pay for massive infrastructure projects and there has been concern if this continues and other industries are not built up in time, there will not be the money to pay for rice and other necessary imports.

Among the schemes underway are a special economic zone in Oecusse in the west and the Tasi Mane project on the south coast which is being built in anticipation of piped gas from a new LNG field in the Timor Sea.

Details of the deal with Australia over the Greater Sunrise field are still to be unveiled and there are many questions over if and how it will be developed.

"Oil money is easy money," said Juvinal Diaz, a researcher with the local organisation, La'o Humutuk, which is urging more spending on health and education to lift people out of poverty.

"The country is already freed from occupation, but people (are) still colonised by poverty. We want a good governance plan to address people's needs."

New Zealand is among countries helping to develop areas of potential like agriculture, fisheries and tourism as well as providing scholarships, training and support for early childhood education.

It's building playgrounds, training inspectors and supporting a country-wide learning magazine reaching 130,000 children in even remote villages.

New Zealand is also putting $14.5m into a Fair Trade coffee growers co-operative, CCT, helping 19,000 farmers prune overgrown trees and replant new ones.

Coffee is the country's biggest export after oil and a coffee culture is taking root in the capital. "I grew up with coffee," said Tozy Goncalves, a barista at the Agora Food Studio in Dili.

Standing behind the restaurant's shiny espresso machine, he explains how his family survived growing coffee beans, without ever knowing what made a good cup.

He says his job and new skills, including decorating the milk froth with his own style of "coffee art" make him happy.

Efforts are also underway to harness young people's potential at a newly set up one-stop-shop in Dili, supported by the United Nations Development Programme.

"As young people, we don't fight for independence... we fight for development," said Silvia de Araujo, an entrepreneur and mentor at the centre. The hub has laptops, information desks and advisers helping with financing and know-how.

Ms de Araujo established her own business selling feed to fish farmers after spotting a gap in the market when she worked as a technician with a New Zealand sponsored fish hatchery.

"I encourage all the young people in Timor-Leste to work together to develop themselves, invest [in] themselves. I want to make 10 or 20 Silvias," she said, smiling.

[Sally Round travelled to Timor-Leste as winner of the VSA Excellence in Journalism Award.]

Source: https://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/insight/audio/2018625261/insight-rebuilding-timor-leste

Economy & investment

Jose Ramos-Horta: East Timor will survive as oil ends

Al Jazeera - December 6, 2017

Faisal Edroos – East Timor, one of the world's poorest countries, could still be an economic success story despite reports its main oil and gas fields will run dry by 2022 and it will go bankrupt by 2027, according to its former leader.

Devastated by years of foreign occupation, Southeast Asia's youngest nation has relied heavily on its dwindling energy sector, which accounted for 78 percent of its 2017 state budget.

Speaking on the sidelines of International Civil Society Week in the Fijian capital, Suva, Jose Ramos-Horta – who served as prime minister from 2006-2007 and president from 2007-2012 – insists his country, once seen as a poster child for developing nations, can overcome its economic hurdles.

"East Timor is only 15 years old. If you saw what my country was like at the start of this century, you'd be shocked," Ramos-Horta told Al Jazeera.

Indonesia annexed East Timor, which sits at the eastern end of the Indonesian archipelago, in 1975 when long-time colonial power Portugal set it free.

Indonesian strongman Suharto's military swept across the country in a lightning offensive, laying waste to entire villages with US-made weapons and equipment.

More than 100,000 East Timorese were killed during the 24-year occupation in what academics from the University of Oxford and Yale University have called genocide.

When Indonesia finally left in 1999 following a UN supervised independence referendum, more than 80 percent of the country's infrastructure had been destroyed.

The country became fully independent in 2002 after a three-year period of UN administration.

"In 2002, we had 19 East Timorese doctors in the country," the 67-year-old said. "Today we have close to 1,000."

"We barely had electricity anywhere in the country, including the capital, Dili. Today, we have continuous electricity in 80 percent of the country. The remaining 20 percent uses alternative methods such as solar."

Ramos-Horta, who was co-awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996 for lobbying foreign leaders for Indonesia's withdrawal, said his government planned for the depleting oil and gas reserves, with the country's economic future no longer reliant on its offshore deposits.

"Unlike many other oil and gas producing nations, we immediately created a sovereign wealth fund. We started with £250m and now we have more than $16bn in the bank.

"At the time, the law said 90 percent of oil and gas revenues will go to buying US treasury bonds. Ten percent, we could use to diversify. Since we didn't have a lot of experience in the international market we decided to invest everything in US treasury bonds.

"When the 2008 financial crisis struck, better economies than ours, countries with a stronger international standing like Singapore and Norway, lost tens of billions. East Timor didn't lose a cent."

Speaking to the media in 2008, the US-educated politician quipped East Timor could become the "next Dubai".

But tensions have simmered in the nascent democracy over income inequality and high unemployment. According to the World Bank, 41 percent of East Timor's 1.2 million people live on less than $0.88 a day.

The current government, led by Prime Minister Rui Maria de Araujo, faces increasing pressure to generate new jobs with 60 percent of its population aged under 25.

The country's main oil and gas field, the ConocoPhillips-operated Bayu-Undan project, provided about $20bn to the economy over the past 10 years, but it is expected to cease production between by 2022.

"We changed our laws in 2009 to allow bigger changes to our economic portfolio. We now have more than 1,000 investments around the world," Ramos-Horta said.

"We have hundreds of people studying for their masters in countries abroad. At the same time, we are investing wisely. We are living off these investments.

"When I said Dubai I was daydreaming. Forget Dubai. I would be happy if East Timor could reach the heights of Fiji."

However, researchers at the Dili-based think-tank La'o Hamutuk said unless new sources of income are found, the country could go bankrupt as early as 2027.

La'o Hamutuk warned East Timor's parliament last year the 2017 budget of $1.39bn would require a withdrawal of more than $1bn from the petroleum fund. With the government planning to take out almost four times the estimated income every year between 2018 and 2021, the fund's balance will fall by at least $3bn, to $13bn.

The think-tank urged the government to reassess several mega-projects, questioning their "benefits for the majority of Timorese people".

"These projects will displace local communities, use up valuable agricultural land, destroy farmers' livelihoods and pollute the environment. Meanwhile, the money spent in them comes from a finite total, and is no longer available for necessary projects, sustainable economic development, equitable projects, and social services for everyone," it said.

Aside from oil, agriculture is a key component of the economy, providing subsistence to about 80 percent of the population. The most significant commodity export is coffee, which accounted for $30m of annual exports in 2016.

"We could do much better," Ramos-Horta said when pressed about the future of East Timor's fledgling economy. "But we can't do miracles."

Source: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/12/jose-ramos-horta-east-timor-survive-oil-ends-171206204731242.html

Balibo five

Timor-Leste: Two winners named for Balibo Five-Roger East

Pacific Media Centre - December 20, 2017

Sydney (Media Alliance/Pacific Media Watch) – Two journalists from Timor-Leste will benefit from the Balibo Five-Roger East Fellowship in 2018, an initiative of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance and Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA.

They were chosen from four outstanding applications assessed by a selection panel in Australia, the MEAA says in a statement. The next recipients of funding from the fellowship, which aims to nurture the development of journalism in East Timor are:

- Maria Pricilia Fonseca Xavier, a journalist and news broadcaster in Tetum and Portuguese at Timor-Leste Television (TVTL).

- Augusto Sarmento Dos Reis, senior sports journalist and online coordinator at the Timor Post daily newspaper and diariutimorpost.tl website.

The Balibo Five-Roger East Fellowship has been established to honour the memory of the six Australian journalists murdered in East Timor in 1975, and to improve the quality and skill of journalism in East Timor.

The applications were assessed by a panel of MEAA communications director Mark Phillips; Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA organiser trade union development and education for Timor-Leste and Indonesia, Samantha Bond; senior lecturer in journalism at Charles Sturt University, Bathurst, Jock Cheetham; and former television journalist and newsreader Mal Walden, who was a colleague of three of the Balibo Five.

Funding for projects

The successful applicants will be provided with funding to assist them with specific journalism projects in Timor.

It is anticipated that each will also be offered the opportunity to travel to Australia in 2018 to spend some time observing and working in an Australian newsroom.

MEAA chief executive Paul Murphy said all the applications were again of a high quality and representative of the diversity of journalism in East Timor.

"We are well aware that is not easy to work as a journalist in Timor-Leste, and journalists face many hurdles, including a lack of resources and training, and attacks from the government on press freedom," he said.

"But we are delighted that the successful applicants represent both print/online and broadcast media, and there is a balance between genders.

"Both Pricilia and Augusto are young journalists with impressive track records and a thirst to succeed in their chosen profession."

Kate Lee, executive director of Union Aid Abroad-Apheda, said: "We are delighted to again be able to partner with the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance to support the development of independent journalism in Timor Leste through the Balibo Five-Roger East Fellowship and look forward to seeing some great investigative work from Pricilia and Augusto in 2018"

Funding for the Balibo Five-Roger East Fellowship has come from MEAA, the Fairfax Media More Than Words workplace giving programme, and private donations.

40th anniversary

The fellowship was established on the 40th anniversary of the murders of the Balibo Five in 1975.

Last year, four journalists successfully applied for funding from the fellowship, while separately the fellowship assisted Timorese journalist Raimundos Oki to spend a week with Fairfax Media in Sydney in September.

The fellowship carries the names of six journalists who were murdered by Indonesian forces in East Timor in 1975.

Five young journalists working for Australia's Seven and Nine networks – reporter Greg Shackleton, camera operator Gary Cunningham, sound recordist Tony Stewart (all from Seven), reporter Malcolm Rennie and camera operator Brian Peters (both from Nine) – were killed in the village of Balibo after witnessing an incursion by Indonesian soldiers on October 16, 1975. Their killers have never been brought to justice.

Freelance reporter Roger East, a stringer for the ABC and AAP who provided the first confirmed accounts of the killing of the Balibo Five, was executed by Indonesian troops on Dili Wharf on December 8. His body fell into the sea and was never recovered.

Source: http://www.pmc.aut.ac.nz/pacific-media-watch/timor-leste-two-winners-named-balibo-five-roger-east-fellowships-10055

Invasion & occupation

'This is my mum': after 40 years a stolen child finally returns

The Guardian (Australia) - December 20, 2017

Krithika Varagur in Aileu, Timor-Leste – It was 39 years since Kauka had last walked up the steep dirt road to her house in the Timor-Leste highlands, a lifetime since she was taken by an Indonesian soldier on her way home from school.

She was just eight on the day she was prised from her family of subsistence coffee farmers, her school friends, neighbours, village, and country. She remembers biting the soldier's shoulder in protest, to little effect. Within days her parents had been forced to consent to her "adoption". She was taken first to a nearby military tent and soon after to the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, where she has lived ever since.

Kauka was abducted in 1978, early in Indonesia's 24-year-long military occupation of the former Portuguese colony of Timor-Leste. But last month, aged 47, she came back – a stolen child returning to her mother.

Her road home has been pockmarked by abuse and heartache. Despite nominally becoming the soldier's adopted daughter, Kauka was beaten, whipped, forced to cook and work, and burned with cigarettes by his wife and family.

She converted to Islam from Catholicism and started wearing a hijab. She eventually fled to a madrasa and the house of the soldier's sister, who "adopted" her too – until a few years later, when the sister made a deathbed request that Kauka marry her husband after she passed away.

So, in short but strange order, Kauka became the second wife of her kidnapper's brother-in-law, stepmother to his two children, a devout Muslim, and a dedicated housewife.

And it would have gone on like that for ever, were it not for the efforts of a charity set up to find abducted Timorese children and reunite them with their families. According to a 2005 report from Timor-Leste's truth commission there are at least 4,000 cases like Kauka's.

"Wherever there are soldiers, there are stolen children," said Galuh Wandita, the director of Asia Justice and Rights, or Ajar, the nonprofit that organises the reunions.

Last month Kauka began her journey back to her village, Berleo. She and a small retinue from Ajar ascended from the capital, Dili, in a truck that started and stopped, grinding its wheels into sheets of toffee-coloured mudwater. Local boys were rallied to tow it as Kauka watched mutely; she had mostly forgotten the local language, Tetum.

As she approached her hometown, the third of seven villages in the misty Aileu hills, crowds of residents came out to watch. One young woman came up to Kauka, curious about the hijabi visitor in a district that rarely sees new faces.

"Are you an Indonesian or Timorese?" she asked her, in effortful Indonesian.

"I am Timorese," she said. "But I've been living in Indonesia."

"How long?" the woman asked her.

"Almost 40 years."

The woman's face rearranged itself. "The army?" she asked Kauka.

"Yes, the army."

It was understood.

Around sunset the truck stopped again and more villagers came up to Kauka. They had heard she was coming back and had been her classmates: did she remember them from second grade?

Kauka looked utterly blank. She did not seem to remember them at all. She also had not been convinced a few days earlier when a man claiming to be her younger brother met her at the airport, where she arrived with Ajar in a group of 15 stolen children.

Her brother, a police officer, had managed to cross the security lines and tried to embrace her. He remembered her childhood pet name and had the same broad mouth and distinctive eyes.

But Kauka had refused to look at him. Her companions were beginning to worry they had botched the reunion.

Later, arriving in Berleo under millions of stars, the entire village trailed her from the truck to her house. There a woman wrapped in faded linen opened the door. Kauka embraced her dully and they sat down under a fluorescent bulb.

But then Kauka remembered something and took the older woman's hand. A ripple crossed her face: there was a scar. Her mother had broken her hand when Kauka was still a child, one of the details about her family that was burned into her mind when she was put on a one-way ship to Indonesia.

"This is my mum," she said. "This is my mum."

The older woman teared up and they embraced again, with force. If this was her mother, then that was her brother, and that other woman standing in the corner was her sister-in-law, and this two-year-old girl was her niece, and all these people were, in fact, her people.

That night, reunions like hers were being repeated across the tiny country as 15 stolen children, all adults now, met their families for the first time in three or four decades. They now live in Java or Sulawesi, large Indonesian islands, working as farmers, labourers, shiphands, housewives. Some had been given new names and others new religions.

Under the Suharto military dictatorship, Indonesia occupied Timor-Leste from 1975 to 1999. It was a brutal rule marked by systematic torture, rape, starvation, killings, and thousands of child soldiers, like most of the male stolen children.

Ajar, which works on accountability for mass crimes across south-east Asia, has brought a total of 57 stolen children back home. It is presently the only effort from Indonesia to find their families.

This month's trip started in Dili, where the returning adults met with Timorese officials and its human rights and truth commissions, who effusively welcomed them back and invited them to become Timorese citizens again.

But that is likely easier said than done. Most of the stolen children are too poor to afford a plane ticket, have largely forgotten Tetum, and have put down roots in their transplanted homes. And Timor-Leste is still a tiny new country of fewer than 1.3 million people, with much less infrastructure and civil society than most of Indonesia.

The stolen children's families were told to send a representative to meet them when they landed. One man named Maritu Fonseka, now a janitor in Sulawesi, tearfully found and embraced his grandmother. Another man, Marsal Cimenes, sat forlornly to the side; he thought no one had come for him.

But it turned out that the woman was also his aunt. She took him in, too, the three of them sitting arm-in-arm for the rest of the afternoon – and the two men, who had met only days earlier, realised they were not just new friends but also family.

Their story was not an exception: two other men in the cohort found out they were cousins through the reunion process and went home together to a hamlet near the hillside town of Maubisse.

In another village near Maubisse, Miguel Amaral, one of the oldest returning Timorese, sat with his cousin in a little grey house. He was renamed Untung, meaning "lucky", by Indonesian soldiers because he was shot at three times and survived. He has carried around a faded photograph of the soldier who kidnapped him for 40 years.

"I didn't feel lucky then," he said. "Maybe a little bit now."

The circumstances of their return force a lifetime's worth of emotions into a week.

Kauka went from hesitant stranger to the teen daughter she never got a chance to be within hours of her return.

"Mum, you can't wear plastic bangles like that," she said in broken Tetum, rolling her eyes and pulling the black ones off her mother's wrist. By the next morning she had visibly relaxed.

"You know, it's funny," she said, dipping a stale Portuguese roll into very sweet coffee. "You probably don't remember anything about your mum from when you were a child. But I did. Because I had to."

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/dec/20/stolen-child-finally-returns-home-timor-leste

Analysis & opinion

Timor-Leste's precarious position after 2017

East Asia Forum - December 26, 2017

Bec Strating – Timor-Leste ends 2017 with great uncertainty over the future of the Greater Sunrise gas field, over the stability of its government and over its ambitions to become a member of ASEAN.

In the long-running Timor Sea dispute between Australia and Timor-Leste, the year started with a bombshell. In January 2017 the states revealed their agreement to terminate a 2006 treaty originally designed to distribute revenues derived from the contested Greater Sunrise gas field.

Many viewed the agreement's demise as a significant win for Timor-Leste. And on 30 August 2017 a press release revealed details of another apparent breakthrough in the negotiations -­ both states had agreed to the central elements of a maritime boundary delimitation and the establishment of a 'special regime' for the development of Greater Sunrise.

While much secrecy continues to shroud the maritime boundary agreement, it is clear that Timor-Leste had to compromise on its claims to the entire Greater Sunrise gas field. A treaty text on boundaries is ready to be signed in 2018, but much of what happens now depends upon whether a development plan can be agreed upon between Timor-Leste and its commercial venture partners. Timorese leaders remain committed to building a pipeline to carry the gas to its south coast for processing -­ a plan that leading partner Woodside Petroleum had previously rejected. If the venture partners and Timor-Leste cannot come to an agreement, then the development of Greater Sunrise -­ and, consequently, Timor-Leste's future economic viability -­ might be threatened.

On the domestic political front, Timor-Leste held its third successful presidential and parliamentary elections since it gained independence in 2002.

Since February 2015, Timorese 'consensus-driven' democracy had been characterised by a governing coalition between the two major parties: Fretilin and the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT). It was widely anticipated that this cosy partnership would continue after the 2017 parliamentary elections.

Supported by CNRT, former Fretilin resistance leader Francisco 'Lu-Olo' Guterres was elected President in March, receiving 57.1 per cent of votes ahead of Antonio da Conceicao of the Democratic Party (PD) with 32.5 per cent of the vote.

Timor-Leste held its parliamentary elections on 22 July 2017. In a positive sign for democratic consolidation, the elections ran smoothly and featured high voter turnout of around 75 per cent.

The two major parties achieved almost identical results. Fretilin's loyal voter base came out in force, with the party obtaining a plurality of 29.87 per cent of the vote and 23 seats of the 65 available. In contrast, CNRT, led by former resistance leader, president and prime minister Xanana Gusmao, came second with 29.46 per cent vote and only 22 seats, a loss of eight seats.

But rather than continue the alliance between Fretilin and CNRT, Gusmao shocked observers by announcing that CNRT would instead fill the role of parliamentary opposition. Even though there was less than half a percentage point difference between them, Fretilin's higher vote count foiled CNRT's expectation that it would be elevated into the leadership position.

The collective 10 seat loss for the two major parties signalled the emergence of new forces in Timorese politics. The newly established People's Liberation Party, led by former president Taur Matan Ruak, presented a credible third-party alternative and gained 10.6 per cent of the vote and eight seats. PD, which has played the third-party role in Timorese politics since the country's independence, attained 9.8 per cent of the vote and went down from 8 seats in 2012 to 7. The elections also established the youth-oriented KHUNTO party, which won five seats.

At the time of writing, the Fretilin – PD coalition holds 30 of 65 seats, five seats shy of what it needs to form government. The three opposition parties call themselves the 'Parliamentary Majority Alliance' and have offered themselves as an alternative government. The Fretilin government's national program has been rejected once by the National Parliament, putting Fretilin at risk of dismissal if it is rejected again. Its national budget has now been rejected twice.

The constitution is ambiguous on whether President Lu-Olo must call early elections or allow CNRT to attempt to form majority government. Fretilin and PD might last a full five-year term as a minority government if it can pass its program or it may persuade an opposition party to join them in a majority coalition, but this seems unlikely. Alternatively, CNRT and the opposition parties may be given an opportunity to govern. The most likely outcome is that new elections will have to be held in 2018.

2017 also began with some promising signs regarding Timor-Leste's campaign for ASEAN membership. It had been given more responsibilities and involvement in ASEAN, and the Philippines (as ASEAN chair for 2017) had been publicly supportive of Timor-Leste's membership.

But as the end of the year approaches, it is becoming increasingly clear that Timor-Leste's accession will be delayed. ASEAN's chair in 2018 is Singapore: the most vocal opponent of Timor-Leste's membership. Singapore is concerned that Timor-Leste would burden ASEAN with requests for financial support and hinder the progress of ASEAN economic community building. Ultimately, this failure to join ASEAN in 2017 could mean a loss of momentum for Timor-Leste's campaign and perhaps an indefinite delay.

This uncertainty at the domestic, bilateral and international level will cloud Timor-Leste's outlook going into 2018.

[Bec Strating is Lecturer at the Department of Politics and Philosophy at La Trobe University, Melbourne. She tweets from @becstrating. This article is part of an EAF special feature series on 2017 in review and the year ahead.]

Source: http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2017/12/26/timor-lestes-precarious-position-after-2017/

Democracy in meltdown as East Timorese PM denounces 'coup'

Crikey.com - December 12, 2017

Damien Kingsbury – As East Timor went to elections this year, the country was the most peaceful and united it had been in its short history. The CNRT-Fretilin government of national inclusion had functioned well, it appeared that the 'Generation of '75' exemplified by Xanana Gusmao, was stepping back from politics and, with the initialing of an agreement with Australia on the Timor Sea, the future looked positive.

Gusmao elevated Fretilin member Rui Araujo to become prime minister and then supported Fretilin's Francisco 'Lu-Olo' Guterres to be elected president. The widespread expectation was that, after the elections, Fretilin and CNRT would again form another government of national inclusion.

Within a few short months of that sense of wellbeing, East Timor is again on the brink of civil discord. Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri is refusing to allow parliament to sit as he claims that the opposition, led by Xanana Gusmao, is trying to stage a 'coup'.

Prior to the elections, it was expected that, with a Fretilin President, Fretilin would be given the opportunity to form government if it achieved the largest number of votes. It did, by 0.2 per cent over CNRT, reflecting a substantial drop in support for CNRT. Both parties achieved just under 30 per cent of the vote, meaning that together they could form a majority government or would need to form alliances with minor parties to do so.

On the strength of a 0.2 per cent majority, Alkatiri claimed the prime ministership, breaking the understanding he had with Gusmao that this position would be handed to a younger politician. Indeed, given Gusmao's support for Fretilin's Araujo and Lu-Olo, CNRT might have expected a quid pro quo arrangement with one of its own nominated as PM. That did not occur.

Under East Timor's constitution, the party that wins the most votes, even without a majority, can be asked to form government. As a result the president announced that Fretilin would form government and Alkatiri announced that he would be prime minister.

Weeks of difficult negotiations followed, in which CNRT refused to join Fretilin under Alkatiri and – after reaching agreement to form a coalition, the People's Liberation Party (PLP) and a youth-based party, KHUNTO – chose to stay out. The Democratic Party, historically hostile towards Fretilin, finally agreed to join it in a minority government.

In response, CNRT, PLP and KHUNTO convened themselves as the Parliamentary Majority Alliance, holding 35 of the parliament's 65 seats, and asked the president to appoint them as the government. But Fretilin had already been appointed, so AMP went into hard opposition, using its numbers to vote down the government program, including its budget.

Under East Timor's constitution, if the government program is voted down a second time, the president must dismiss the government. The constitution implies that the government program should be re-presented to parliament within 30 days of its initial rejection. That date came and went three weeks ago.

The parliament is, however, still required to meet, at which time the AMP opposition was expected to put a motion of no confidence in the President of the Parliament (the Speaker) for failing to convene parliament. Prime Minister Alkatiri responded by saying that the AMP opposition is illegally constituted – although there's nothing to suggest this is the case, that it is trying to stage a 'coup' and that parliament will therefore not reconvene.

Alkatiri's use of the term 'coup' has further inflamed already heightened tensions. He had earlier said, in response to this showdown: 'while some dance in parliament, we shall dance on the streets', implying that parliamentary blockages would be met by street protests. The AMP opposition similarly accuses the government of being unconstitutional. Both sides of parliament, and their supporters, are now deeply – and seemingly irrevocably – entrenched.

The last time that Alkatiri used the term 'coup' was at the end of his first term as prime minister, which ended in widespread violence, destruction and the return to East Timor of international peace keepers. At best, now, parliament will at some point reconvene, if only to guarantee supply into the new year ahead of what will almost inevitably be fresh elections, probably in April.

The bitterness that again characterises East Timor's politics means that such elections, and the lead-up to them, are less likely to reflect the peace and harmony that characterised those of 2017. More likely, and less helpfully, East Timor's politics is looking much more like that of 2006-07.

The alternative is that parliament does not reconvene and there are no elections. This suggests that the matter will end with what Alkatiri euphemistically called 'dancing in the streets'.

[Damien Kingsbury is professor of international politics at Deakin University, and coordinator of the largest international election observer mission to East Timor's 2017 elections.]

Source: https://www.crikey.com.au/2017/12/12/democracy-meltdown-east-timorese-pm-denounces-coup/

Timor-Leste: is Dili on (political) fire again?

Presidential Power - December 11, 2017

Rui Graca Feijo – Almost nine months after the election of the fourth President of the Republic, the first to be won by a President affiliated to a political party (FRETILIN) and to benefit from a pre-first round major party coalition, and four and a half months after FRETILIN narrowly won the legislative elections (by a mere thousand votes over Xanana Gusmao's CNRT, both winning just under 30% of the vote), Timor-Leste does not yet have a fully invested government and political tensions are running higher than at any point since the crisis of 2006.

The coalition between FRETILIN and CNRT to elect Lu Olo on the first round of the presidential election was unprecedented in a country that was more used to seeing first ballots contested by partisan and "independent" candidates alike and to seeing informal agreements being made for the run-off poll. However, the coalition was a natural consequence of political developments that marked the previous electoral cycle.

Having won a plurality in 2012, Xanana returned as PM supported by his allies who had won seats in parliament. Immediately he started working towards a new political solution that would encompass the historical party FRETILIN, around which a "cordon sanitaire" had been erected after the 2006 crisis. The state budgets for 2013 and 2014 were approved unanimously and FRETILIN's leader was offered a significant position as head of a Special Region. Allegedly supported by President Taur Matan Ruak (aka TMR), the converging paths of the parliamentary parties were hailed by a senior minister as the "replacement of belligerent democracy by consensus democracy" (Agio Pereira). In early 2015 Xanana stepped aside for the formation of a "Government of National Inclusion". This was headed by Rui Maria de Araujo, a former "independent" minister and member of the Council of State, who had since joined the ranks of FRETILIN, a party that was "offered" several other key ministers in the government "in their individual and technical capacities", without formally signing an agreement (instead, it maintained the status of "opposition" party without giving this any substantial meaning).[i] The policies of the "Government of National Inclusion", however, came under severe criticism from President TMR, who declined to seek a second term in office, created his own political party (PLP – Partido da Libertacao do Povo), and fought the legislative elections, obtaining about 12% of the vote and 8 seats in parliament. The four parties that had supported the government ran campaigns that failed to criticise ongoing strategic decisions and it was expected that the basic the government formula would be maintained after the polls. In the end, one of those parties failed to pass the 4% threshold and won no seats, while PLP and another young party – KHUNTO – secured their presence in parliament.

Immediately after the results were announced, FRETILIN leader Mari Alkatiri claimed the premiership for his party (and actually, for himself), thus substantially altering the conditions under which the previous government had been negotiated. Both TMR and Xanana said that they would serve in the opposition and that neither would take their seats in parliament. They also pledged, rather vaguely, to follow a "constructive opposition" and "not to obstruct" the functioning of government.

As he summoned the three leaders to a joint meeting, President Lu Olo must have felt rather insecure, given that the consultations that he was constitutionally obliged to make had been attended by second-line figures from the parties. He failed to convince TMR and Xanana to accept Alkatiri's terms – or to convince Alkatiri to accept theirs. But a door was open for Alkatiri: to secure an agreement with a junior party in the previous government (PD, 7 seats) and the newcomer KHUNTO (5 seats).

President Lu Olo appointed Alkatiri as prime minister, that is, designated him as a formateur. Early conversations suggested Alkatiri would be successful – and in this context, the three parties joined forces to elect the Speaker of the House. But KHUNTO did not accept the deal it was being proposed and withdrew from the negotiations. Alkatiri could only present President Lu Olo with a minority government formed by FRETILIN and PD.

President Lu Olo took the bold initiative of accepting Alkatiri's proposal, and formalized the appointment of the very first minority government in Timor-Leste's history (16 September). Alkatiri tried to minimize the risks for his government by inviting respected "independent" figures (such as former PM and President, Ramos-Horta) and prominent members of the opposition parties (such as Xanana's right hand man, Agio Pereira) to be "State Ministers".

The Timorese Constitution facilitates the possibility of minority governments. It stipulates that within a month of being sworn in, the government must present its program to the House – which it did on 16 October. Then the House has three days for debate, at the end of which the government will be invested unless the opposition tables a rejection motion or it feels the political (not constitutional) need to present a confidence motion. If the confidence motion fails, the government falls immediately. If the rejection motion is passed (as it actually was on October 19 by 35 votes to 30), then the government must present a second program.

At this stage we enter a realm of indefiniteness. There is no explicit mention in the constitution, but it is assumed in other countries with similar mechanisms that a government only assumes full and not merely caretaker functions once it has been invested in the House. Also, the Timorese Constitution does not clearly provide a deadline for the second program to be presented – but it is implicit that it should not be longer than the first one.

By December 7, a month and a half have elapsed without the government submitting the second program to the House – and Alkatiri has repeated that he does not feel obliged to do so before the end of the year, or even in the new year. Instead, he has acted as if invested with full powers, submitting to the House a proposal to "rectify" the current budget – something that clearly goes beyond the powers of a caretaker government. All those attitudes have infuriated the opposition.

The opposition has moved closer together, and have signed a formal alliance in order to replace the current government. As Xanana has been involved in overseas activities (officially related to the negotiations with Australia, but actually going far beyond those) and has not set foot in Dili for three months, the agreement was signed in Singapore. Following the acceptance of the budget correction bill for debate by the Speaker, the opposition tabled a motion that the Speaker refuses to put to a plenary vote. The opposition has since been boycotting the parliamentary committee on budget and finances, meaning that it cannot function for lack of a quorum. The opposition parties also tabled another motion to reject the government, which – if approved – would bring it down at once. The Speaker has so far refused to put this item on the agenda. Eve before the Speaker took these decisions, the three parties filed for his destitution – and again the Speaker has not yet set a date to discuss and vote on this proposal.

Meanwhile, the political rhetoric has grown increasingly inflammatory. FRETILIN accuses the opposition of staging a coup (even though they are only using the constitutional and parliamentary powers at their disposal), and Alkatiri fumed that "if they dance in the House, we shall dance on the streets". The current minister for defence and security (who controls both the army and the police) said that: "If disturbances break out on the streets of Dili, the MPs from the opposition benches must take care of the issue". On the opposition side, the rhetoric has matched the government's, with accusations of "unconstitutionality" (namely in the delays regarding the submission of the second draft of the government's program) and unlawful usurpation of power (both against the government and the speaker).

Sooner or later, either the government's program or the opposition's motion of rejection will be brought before MPs. As the situation stands today, it is likely that Alkatiri's executive will not survive, even with the support and complacency of President Lu Olo. If so, then the president has a few alternatives.

First, he will have to decide whether or not to dissolve parliament – a move which he can only make after January 22 due to constitutional restrictions that protect a parliament from being dissolved in the first six months following an election. FRETILIN and its junior party clearly prefer this solution, hoping they will increase their share of the vote. Elections would be held in late March, and a new government installed not before late April. No state budget would be approved in the meantime – a serious issue in a fragile country. However, a new and little credited development has emerged: a number of small parties that all fell below the 4% threshold have made an alliance which, on the evidence of the last elections, would give them 6 or more seats – mainly at the expense of the larger parties, making it even more difficult for a FRETILIN-led government to emerge. The opposition, for its part, would prefer President Lu Olo to respect the current parliament and find a solution. For many, the obvious one would be for him to nominate some figures from the ranks of those parties in order to form a majority government backed by CNRT, PLP and KHUNTO.

But President Lu Olo could choose otherwise – and he might have a chance of success. He has the option of asking Alkatiri to re-initiate negotiations with the opposition (a highly unlikely solution given that tensions are running very high at the moment and the prime minister has shown his weakness as a negotiator by claiming the premiership for himself even before conversations had started). Alternatively, he could appoint a formateur tasked with finding a mutually agreeable solution for the outgoing government and the opposition. Someone such as Rui Maria de Araujo, the prime minister for the last two and a half years, Ramos-Horta, who still commands some respect, or even TMR – a move that could perhaps be coupled with the replacement of the Speaker of the House so that all key positions were not in the hands of a single party – could try to reshape a "Government of National Inclusion". What seems quite clear is that Timor-Leste is not ready for a minority government, even if it is backed by a partisan president.

Previously in the history of independent Timor-Leste, tensions have run high. That was the case in 2006 during the crisis that led to the resignation of the prime minister, in 2007 after the legislative elections, and again in 2008 after the attempted murder of President Ramos-Horta. The existence of non-partisan presidents has been one important element in fostering detente and promoting dialogue, not least because – as the present crisis amply reveals – most political parties are fragile extensions of people with strong personal ambitions. Figures with individual prestige – a feature that in Timor-Leste is still associated with the role performed during the Resistance to Indonesian occupation, as shown by an opinion poll taken before the presidential election – rather than partisan leaders (as party competition still evokes the civil war of 1975), have ample room for intervention in the political arena.

Timor-Leste decided that the time was ripe for a new kind of presidency. However President Lu Olo seems to have been overtaken by the mounting tension, unable to distance himself and the presidency from siding with one faction. He is a player in the most severe political crisis in the country since 2006 – not the moderator or referee who might be able to foster dialogue. His reading of the situation indicates that he supports FRETILIN's stance, and he rejects the claims of any "irregular functioning of the political institutions". However, he risks ending up as a "lame duck". The miracle that could save him in the short term would be the establishment of a new "Government of National Inclusion". It is up to him to decide.

Alkatiri once told me in an interview that "political exclusion generates conflicts"[ii]. One wonders whether he recalls what he said in the light of FRETILIN's decision to occupy the three most senior positions of the Timorese state under his leadership, a state that is built on principles of power sharing.


[i] On the formation of this government, see my "The Long and Winding Road: a brief history of the idea of 'Government of National Inclusion' and its current implications", ANU SSGM Discussion Paper 2016/3

[ii] Mari Alkatiri, "A exclusao politica gera conflitos" in R.G.Feijo (ed) O Semi-presidencialismo Timorense. Coimbra, CES/Almedina, 2014

[This is a guest post by Rui Graca Feijo of CES/UCoimbra and IHC/UNLisboa in the Presidential Power blog.]

Source: http://presidential-power.com/?p=7368

Hanging by a thread: Timor-Leste government losing grip on power

Future Directions - December 6, 2017

Jarryd de Haan – According to a press release published by Scoop, the Central committee of the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor (Frente Revolucionaria do Timor-Leste Independente, or Fretilin), met at the party's headquarters on 2 December to discuss the political climate facing the party. Prime Minister Dr Mari Alkatiri, who is also the Secretary-General of Fretilin, which leads the ruling coalition, expressed his frustration to the three hundred attendees:

"[The opposition] voted against the government programme, a pro-people programme. They voted against the request to accelerate the procedural protocol for debate of the amending budget proposal. A budget that would cover necessary expenses. They boycott the work and functioning of the National Parliament Commissions. They present motions without strong arguments, without fundamental base. All because they want to perform a coup against the government elected by a majority."

Alleged coup attempts against Fretilin and a proposal on 2 December to remove the President of Parliament were also discussed at the meeting. The final members of the current parliament had been sworn in on 3 October.


The problems faced by the government stem from the close result of the recent elections. On 20 March 2017, Francisco Guterres, the leader of Fretilin, won the presidential election and led his party to win parliamentary elections held in July. The Fretilin victory was narrow, however, and forced Guterres to seek out a new coalition partner after the alliance with the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (Congresso Nacional de Reconstrucao de Timor, CNRT) fell through. In the end, the party had to settle for a coalition that secured only 30 of the possible 65 seats in parliament. For the first time since independence, Timor-Leste is under the rule of a minority government.

While minority governments are not uncommon for such a political system, it has become a sore point for Fretilin. In October, the opposition indicated that it was prepared to form a majority parliamentary alliance while politicians signed a letter addressed to Guterres which criticised his decision to form a minority government. The letter also stated that the opposition was 'willing to present an alternative government solution', a potential threat to oust Fretilin's coalition from power.

The dissolution of the ruling coalition is a very real possibility which could be triggered if Fretilin's proposed 2017-22 legislative programme is rejected twice in parliament. The first proposal was rejected on 19 October, with the parliament voting along party lines of 30 for and 35 against. According to parliament press releases analysed by La'o Hamutuk, the nature of the debate prior to the vote was shallow. The opposition allegedly focussed on generalised arguments and criticised the coalition for leading a minority government while paying very little attention to the actual substance of the proposal. That gives little hope for the second proposal which, as of writing, is yet to be debated.

If the government is dissolved, which appears to be a likely scenario, the president will need to examine the possibility of another party or coalition forming a government. If no suitable government is decided, then another round of parliamentary elections will take place early next year (likely to be in March). According to David Hutt, writing in the Diplomat, conflicting interests within the opposition mean that it is unlikely that it will be able to form a stable coalition to take the reins of power. Michael Leech, in the Lowy Interpreter, on the other hand, sees it as a viable alternative to Fretilin occupying the roles of President, Prime Minister and President of Parliament, despite receiving only thirty per cent of the votes in the parliamentary election.

Whatever the outcome, the ensuing governmental instability is unwelcome news for the people of Timor-Leste and for Australia. Timor-Leste needs a strong, stable government to effectively steer its economy through troubled waters. There is a tangible risk that the government could run out of the funds needed to establish an economy that is not wholly reliant on limited oil reserves for its survival. Gaining access to the reserves in the Greater Sunrise oil and gas field is essential to surmounting this risk. While negotiations on a treaty with Australia regarding Greater Sunrise are tracking well, any treaty will still need to be passed through the parliaments of both countries. Instability in the Timor-Leste parliament could mean that the treaty, which is due to be finalised in early 2018, may be delayed by a number of months.

[Jarryd de Haan is a research analyst with the Indian Ocean Research Programme.]

Source: http://www.futuredirections.org.au/publication/hanging-thread-timor-leste-government-losing-grip-power/

Book & film reviews

Crossing the Line: Australia's Secret History in Timor Sea, Kim

The Australian - December 2, 2017

Robert Murray – "Kissingerian realism" and an associated hard nose for the "national interest", or "Wilsonian idealism"? Nowhere has this timeless tension in foreign affairs challenged Canberra more than over our nearest neighbour, East Timor.

It has made prime ministers from William McMahon to Malcolm Turnbull look mean and tricky, and yet, Kim McGrath suggests in this brisk account of it all, it might be one of those issues where the Wilsonian approach would have served the national interest better.

Against expectations of it becoming a failed state or, earlier, a Cold War pawn, the once war-ravaged East Timor was ranked this year along with Singapore, Norway and Britain as being in a "high state of peace". It is still impoverished, but the 2016 Boston Consulting Group's Sustainable Economic Development Assessment ranked it seventh out of 160 states in making the most progress towards converting economic development into well-being.

Moreover, it is now closer diplomatically to China and Indonesia than it is to Australia, and people on the streets don't like us much. Though national defence considerations come into it, the main problem has been money, in the form of an oil and gas province that lies right on the border under the disputed seabed that separates East Timor from Darwin.

"Australia has collected billions of dollars in revenue from permits issued north of the median line in waters that, according to international law, fall within Timor-Leste's EEZ [economic exclusion zone]," McGrath writes.

The issue has always been a hard one. The law of the sea once gave countries control over the seabed on their continental shelf, which for Australia is very large, especially to the north. With Timor, Australia got what seemed like a free kick, as the shelf dropped away sharply near the Timor coast. But McGrath reveals that as early as 1970 the Bureau of Mineral Resources challenged this with advice that the continental shelf continued under Timor.

About the same time, the UN began a process to codify the international law of the sea and the right to an EEZ up to 200 nautical miles (370km) from the coast gained credence. For overlapping claims, such as in the Timor Sea, where the coasts were less than 400 nautical miles apart, a median line would apply unless a treaty provided otherwise.

Onshore oil seeps in East Timor had long pointed to the likelihood of oilfields offshore. After offshore drilling became practical in the 1960s, Canberra awarded exploration permits to Australian-based (though mainly multi­national) companies. The area around the so-called Timor Trough was considered the most prospective for oil.

Who to negotiate with? Portugal had colonised East Timor back in the 1500s but it was a remote, poor and ethnically mixed loose end of the Portuguese empire. The US and Indonesia, as well as Australia, did not have much faith in Portuguese staying power. With Australia's enthusiastic support, Suharto's Indonesia took it over in 1975 when Portugal began disbanding its empire.

Portugal did not accept the Indonesian takeover and nor did dominant opinion in its fractious former colony, which wanted independence. Indonesia, but not Portugal, had agreed to a sea boundary relatively favourable to Australia in return for Canberra's support for its own controversial sea boundary encircling the whole archipelago. It negotiated a joint production-sharing arrangement for the border area most prospective for oil, which subsequent exploration showed favoured Australia. Post-Suharto Indonesia set East Timor free, again with enthusiastic support from Canberra in 1999, but only after violent years in which about 200,000 of its people died.

The new country wanted a much better oil deal and after a long, tortuous dispute, has taken Australia to a UN compulsory conciliation hearing.

The saga has been regularly in the news over two generations, but McGrath adds spicy new material from the archives about backstage Canberra manoeuvrings: intrigue, cover-ups, spying, leaking, lobbying, political somersaults, words better said in private. At times Crossing the Line reads like a thriller. She names prominent names.

McGrath's style is mostly crisply forensic, but she concludes with passionate advocacy: "[The Department of Foreign Affairs and trade] has gone to extraordinary lengths to play down Australia's oil agenda in the Timor Sea, but the streets of Dili are graffitied with kangaroos carrying away buckets of oil."

[Robert Murray is the author of The Making of Australia: A Concise History.]

Source: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/review/crossing-the-line-australias-secret-history-in-timor-sea-kim-mcgrath/news-story/f0e155234d9f103ea8ef6c55e46e57a4?nk=9ca98f104facd2ef0e141ab5f968ef8f-1512404682

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