Angela Macdonald-Smith A deal struck between the Australian and Timor-Leste governments has opened the door for progress on Woodside Petroleum's long-stalled $US13 billion Sunrise LNG project but any development still looks years away amid ongoing disagreement on how to develop the large offshore field.
A new treaty on maritime boundaries between the two countries and addressing the "legal status" of the Sunrise gas field is set to be signed on March 6 in New York, according to a statement from the Permanent Court of Arbitration after meetings hosted by the Conciliation Commission concluded on Sunday in Kuala Lumpur.
The meetings followed an unexpected breakthrough in the long-running sea boundary dispute last September. The former Greater Sunrise revenue-sharing deal was scrapped in January last year.
Woodside, the operator of the Sunrise venture, said on Tuesday it hopes the commission's conclusions and the signing of the treaty "will help to provide the fiscal and regulatory certainty required to develop Greater Sunrise for the benefit of all parties".
It stopped short of reiterating support for floating LNG to develop the circa 5.13 trillion cubic feet Sunrise gas resource in the Timor Sea, which Timor-Leste wants to be developed at on onshore processing plant that would be built on its southern coast. The field also holds some 226 million barrels of oil-like condensates, making development more lucrative.
According to the Court of Arbitration statement, the treaty sets out rules for sharing revenues from Sunrise between the Timor-Leste and Australian governments, with the split to differ depending on which development concept is selected.
The split is understood to be 80:20 in favour of Timor-Leste if offshore processing is selected, and 70:30 in favour of Timor-Leste for an onshore plant in Timor, according to Damien Kingsbury at Deakin University, who specialises on politics and security in southeast Asia.
Professor Kingsbury described the deal as "a critical step forward" given Timor-Leste's fragile budget position, which is essentially dependent on the ageing Bayu-Undan gas field. Bayu-Undan feeds the Darwin LNG plant in northern Australia but output is due to start running down early next decade.
He said he expected the Timor-Leste government to ultimately take the decision on how Sunrise should be developed. But if it sticks to its previous insistence that the LNG plant is built on Timor-Leste, Woodside may decide to exit.
The Sunrise venture, which includes Shell, ConocoPhillips and Osaka Gas, has previously argued that building an onshore LNG plant on Timor-Leste is too risky, given the presence of the deep Timor Trough 40 nautical miles from the coast that a gas pipeline would need to cross.
The development came as Shell released a bullish new assessment of the LNG market, warning of a potential shortfall in supply in the mid-2020s unless commitments to new plants are made soon.
The energy major said global LNG imports grew by 29 million tonnes, or 11 per cent, last year, defying expectations for softer growth and oversupply. Shell is forecasting LNG demand will see a 4 per cent compound annual growth rate through to 2035, concentrated in Asia.
Woodside said that until new arrangements for the Production Sharing Contract at Sunrise are in place, the joint venture will continue to honour its obligations under our existing contracts and retention leases, and continue social investment activities in Timor-Leste. It maintains an office in Dili.
Lindsay Murdoch, Bangkok Australia and East Timor will sign a landmark agreement aimed at opening the way to share revenue from the $50 billion Greater Sunrise oil and gas field in the Timor Sea at the United Nations next week.
But intense negotiations have so far failed to settle how the field could be exploited by a Woodside Energy-led consortium. Recommendations by the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague, which has overseen negotiations between the neighbouring countries, on how the dispute should be settled are expected to be released in mid-April.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio is set to witness the signing of a new Maritime Boundaries agreement in New York on March 6. Details of the agreement have not been made public.
The agreement will then have to be ratified by the parliaments of both East Timor and Australia. East Timor's Parliament has been dissolved after a months-long political impasse and fresh elections are scheduled for May.
The signing in New York will end years of bitter disagreement over the boundary which successive Australian governments refused to negotiate for years.
The Portuguese news agency Lusa reported in early February from Dili that East Timor could receive up to 80 per cent of revenue from the field which would secure its economic future for decades if the field is developed.
Lusa quoted sources saying East Timor would receive 70 per cent of the revenue if gas is piped to a yet-to-be built industrial complex on East Timor's south coast. Neither Australia or East Timor have commented on the report.
A Woodside Energy Limited-led consortium has been involved in negotiations over the treaty which concluded in Kuala Lumpur last week. The consortium initially said it wanted to build a floating LNG platform to process gas from the field.
Another option is the pipe the gas to an existing processing plant in Darwin. But East Timor's former prime minister and president Xanana Gusmao, who has led his country's negotiations, has insisted the gas to be piped to East Timor.
A spokeswoman for Woodside said: "We hope that the Commission's conclusions and the signing of the Treaty will help to provide the fiscal and regulatory certainty required to develop Greater Sunrise for the benefit all parties."
East Timor and Australia have reached an agreement for a treaty on their disputed maritime border and on a "pathway" to develop the giant Greater Sunrise offshore gas fields, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague says.
Under the agreement, the share of revenue from the offshore gas field will differ depending on downstream benefits that arise from "different development concepts", the statement released following talks in Kuala Lumpur said.
The agreement would establish a maritime boundary in the Timor Sea for the first time. Australia had sought a boundary aligned with its continental shelf, but East Timor argued the border should lie half way between it and Australia placing much of the Greater Sunrise fields under its control.
The long-running dispute had led the owners of Greater Sunrise Woodside Petroleum, ConocoPhillips, Royal Dutch Shell and Japan's Osaka Gas to shelve the project.
The fields are estimated to hold 144 billion cubic metres of gas and 226 million barrels of condensates, which analysts have previously estimated could be worth up to $50 billion.
However, development could be at least a decade away, with Woodside looking at the latter half of the next decade.
Ending years of opposition, Australia agreed in 2017 to accept Dili's formal notice to terminate an agreement to split petroleum revenue equally from Greater Sunrise and set a 50-year timetable for negotiating a permanent sea boundary.
Dili had taken the long-running maritime border dispute to the Permanent Court of Arbitration, an intergovernmental organisation based at The Hague, which ordered compulsory arbitration between the two parties.
The court announced last year that the countries had reached an agreement "on the central elements of a maritime boundary delimitation between them in the Timor Sea" but that details would remain confidential until the deal was finalised.
The two governments will meet in New York at the United Nations headquarters on March 6 to sign the new maritime boundary treaty, the statement said.
East Timor had been pushing for the building of an onshore processing plant to boost its economy rather than a floating plant.
According to media reports, East Timor could receive up to 80 per cent of revenue, but could agree to less if gas is piped to a terminal in the tiny country.
The Sunrise joint venture, led by Woodside, said it was aware the two governments had agreed a new maritime boundaries treaty.
"We hope that the Commission's conclusions and the signing of the treaty will help to provide the fiscal and regulatory certainty required to develop Greater Sunrise for the benefit of all parties," a Sunrise joint venture spokeswoman said.
The Department of Foreign Affairs had no immediate comment.
The leader of East Timor's delegation, chief negotiator and former president Xanana Gusmao, and Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri could not be immediately reached for comment.
Thomas Ora, Dili Negotiations have resumed between Timor-Leste and Australia to determine exploration and revenue sharing issues for the multibillion-dollar Greater Sunrise oil and gas fields.
The Feb. 19-24 talks in Kuala Lumpur follow recent talks in Sydney, Australia that concentrated on exploration issues. Although no outcome has been made public, this week's talks were expected to concentrate on revenue sharing.
Former president and prime minister Xanana Gusmao was leading Timor-Leste's negotiating team.
According to a sources familiar with the negotiations Timor-Leste would receive 70 percent if the pipeline goes to Timor Leste or 80 percent if it goes to Darwin.
Church leaders in Timor-Leste hope the pipeline from the oil field, reportedly worth about US$50 billion, goes to the impoverished nation.
"The church and people hope that the negotiation team will succeed in bringing the Greater Sunrise pipeline to Timor-Leste," Bishop Virgilio do Carmo da Silva of Dili said.
If the oil is processed is Timor-Leste it can create many job opportunities, helping solve one of the country's main problems unemployment, he told a Mass celebrated in Metinaro Hero Cemetery near the Dili at the weekend.
He expressed hope revenue from the oil would be put to good use by alleviating poverty and providing good education, health, clean water, infrastructure, and electricity.
"Leaders of this country, must use natural resources, oil and gas, for the entire nation," he said.
Lindsay Murdoch East Timor could receive up to 80 per cent of revenue from the $50 billion Greater Sunrise oil and gas field in the Timor Sea under a still-secret agreement with Australia, according to a report from the country's capital of Dili.
The Portuguese news agency Lusa quotes a source familiar with sensitive and high-level negotiations between the countries as saying East Timor would receive 80 per cent of the revenue if gas from the field is piped to an existing processing plant in Darwin, and 70 percent if it goes to a yet-to-be built industrial complex on East Timor's remote south coast.
The split, if the field is developed, would deliver billions of dollars to East Timor and likely secure its economic future for decades as existing oil and gas fields run dry in the next few years.
The report written by Antonio Sampaio, the only foreign correspondent based in Dili, said a landmark agreement due to be signed at the United Nations in early March also puts the maritime boundary halfway between the countries, a huge concession by Australia for Asia's newest nation.
Successive Australian governments refused to renegotiate the boundary for years.
East Timor and Australia announced in September they had agreed on central elements of a landmark treaty establishing maritime boundaries as well as sharing revenue arrangements for Greater Sunrise, ending years of bitter disagreement.
Officials from the two countries, in meetings under the watch of the United Nations, have set a March 1 deadline to agree on the final details.
Donald Rothwell, Professor of International Law at the Australian National University, said it has been clear for some time that a median line boundary would be agreed upon during the negotiations but the more contentious issues remains the eastern lateral boundary.
Under the previous Timor Sea Treaty that area included only part of the Greater Sunrise field with much of it falling within Australia's continental shelf. It would be an even bigger win for East Timor if the lateral boundary is shifted outwards.
Any agreement for the gas to be piped from Greater Sunrise to Darwin or be processed on a floating platform above the field would be highly contentious in East Timor.
Charles Scheiner from the Dili-based NGO La'o Hamutuk said many East Timorese appreciate that Australia has belatedly shown its recognition of Timor-Leste's sovereignty.
"In its first use ever, the UN Compulsory Conciliation mechanism has proven that it can bring a recalcitrant nation to the table, and that has global significance," Mr Scheiner said.
Xanana Gusmao, East Timor's chief negotiator, has insisted for years his country would only agree to allow the gas to be piped to a liquefied natural gas plant planned for the industrial complex in East Timor called Tasi Mane.
In a speech in Abu Dhabi in mid-January, Mr Gusmao said the project would "lay the foundations for diversifying our economy by building other sectors of strategic industries including manufacturing, agriculture, fisheries and tourism."
He said countries blessed with energy resources "must avoid the resource curse and build bridges which link petroleum and prosperity."
But the Woodside-led consortium has said piping the gas to East Timor would be more expensive and risky and initially wanted a floating processing platform above the field.
And the option of piping the gas to a plant at Darwin's Wickham Point has become uncertain as investors, including US firm ConocoPhillips, accelerate plans to develop a field called Barossa, 300 kilometres north of Darwin.
The plans include a 260-kilometre pipeline to tie into an existing pipeline from an existing field called Bayu-Undan field to Wickham Point, which is also operated by ConocoPhillips.
"Barossa could get ahead in the queue to use the Darwin LNG plant and Sunrise might have to wait another 15 years or so," an analyst who closely monitors East Timor said.
"Given the current global glut of natural gas this might not be a bad thing for the companies, especially ConocoPhiliips, although it would delay revenues to Timor-Leste [East Timor]," the analyst said.
"I don't have a good sense about how imminent or real the Barossa project is and how much it's an effort to put pressure on Timor-Leste to agree expeditiously [on Greater Sunrise]."
Barossa would be Australia's first standalone offshore development since 2013.
Mr Gusmao, the hero of East Timor's independence struggle and a former president and prime minister, remains East Timor's most powerful figure and has been named to lead an authority to oversee the development of Greater Sunrise. He met with Foreign Minister Julie Bishop in Sydney on January 29.
Although Mr Gusmao has not returned to East Timor since September he is expected to play a key behind-the-scenes role in fresh elections in East Timor which have been called for 12 May, after months of political deadlock in Dili.
His National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction is the biggest party in a three-party opposition alliance that will be a formidable force at the elections.
Professor Rothwell said given the rhetoric that has come out of East Timor about the need for permanent maritime boundaries and the economic significance of piping to East Timor any treaty which does not provide those guarantees may fail to win the political support necessary in Dili for its ratification.
The parliaments of both East Timor and Australia would have to ratify the treaty after its formal signing. A spokesperson for Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs said details of the treaty remain confidential.
Negotiations aimed at finalising it are scheduled to resume in Malaysia on 19 February.
Timor-Leste (East Timor) and Australia are due to sign the new maritime border treaty between the two countries on 6 March, but the model of exploration of the Greater Sunrise oil fields may not be resolved by that date, Portuguese news agency Lusa reported, citing sources familiar with the process.
The treaty places the border in the position advocated by Timor-Leste, which is, halfway between the two countries, just as Timor-Leste has always demanded.
This line almost definitively solves the border issues in the area, although Timor-Leste then needs to conclude the delimitation of other border areas, with Indonesia.
Teams from Timor-Leste, led by Xanana Gusmao, and Australia whose delegation was led this time by Foreign Minister Julie Bishop met last week in Sydney, Australia.
Three possible scenarios were up for discussion: a floating exploration advocated by the oil companies that have the Greater Sunrise concession: Woodside, ConocoPhillips, Royal Dutch Shell and Osaka Gas the connection to the pipeline linking existing wells in the area to Darwin or a connection to the south of Timor-Leste.
The decision will determine the model of revenue sharing, with Timor-Leste receiving 70% if the pipeline comes to Timorese territory and 80% if it goes to Darwin, according to a source familiar with the negotiations.
The two sides will meet again in Kuala Lumpur for a week of meetings, from 19 to 24 February, and the commission's work officially ends on 1 March. (macauhub)
Celestina Soares Currently, 396 teachers have received inclusive education training; from this number 70 people have their Masters in this area.
The Head of Inclusive Education, Jose Monteiro said 396 teachers are all ready teaching inclusive education because they are trained. "70 masters received training by international trainers, after, they can provide training to other people," he said in Dili.
He said the training is about, how to teach people who have disabilities such as, mute, blind, deaf people and IQ impairment. "For example, teaching mute people, on how to transfer knowledge, is about using body language to communicate with them so they can understand," he said.
He added, in the plan of 2017 training was to be provide in Viqueque, Same, Suai and Oe-Cusse municipalities, although the time is limited therefore training will be implemented next year so all the teachers can receive training to teach students who have a disability.
"We intend to prepare a talking clock for next year, especially for blind students in order to ensure these things are in the center," he said.
The CAUCUS Director, Paula Corte Real said it was important for the Ministry of Education to provide training to the inclusive education teachers, as they teach the people with disabilities.
"They should receive the training before teaching so they have the knowledge to teach people with disabilities, besides at the same time they also can learn," she said.
Paulina Quintao The family and patients gave thanks to the Chinese soldiers for providing aid in Timor-Leste, through delivering free health assistance to the communities.
One patient's family, Francisco da Cruz considered this to be a good opportunity for his family who are sick, and needed to have a complete check with the equipment available on the ship, compared to the National Hospital.
He said the Doctor at the National Hospital provided a referral letter for his wife to undertake a check up at the Hospital Ark Peace ship, in particular, to make a diagnosis because she suffered from heart disease and has the problems with her the back of her head.
He said his wife has managed to do several tests, such as blood tests, X-ray and taking medicine.
"They are strangers, with a big-heart and patient when providing treatment to our people. I observed many patients during the days and how patient they were with people who attended," he said, after having to bring patients for a check up on the ship in the Dili port.
He asked the health professionals across the country to see how the professional ethics of treatment is carried out, and in particular, how to help and provide information to patientsin order for them to access good and quick treatment.
He added that the doctors also write the prescription in English so the patients can buy more medicine in the clinics when they finish.
Meanwhile, one patient, a nun Felisidade de Jesus said she appreciated and thanked the Timor-Leste's government and the Chinese government for providing medical assistance to the Timorese people.
"The doctors are big-hearted to give us this treatment, we are so happy and pray to God to bless them and to continue to help us," she said.
She asked the government to continue to facilitate the humanitarian services across the country and to give an opportunity for all communities to have access to the health treatment.
She added, the challenge faced, is the language although some Timorese people who had completed studies in China, voluntarily helped in translating during medical consultation.
On the other hand, the Dean of The Sea Hospital Ark Peace, Sun Tao, acknowledged that the language was an obstacle for them to explain to the patients about their illness, however they had volunteer translators.
"The problem is the language, we needed 20 translators to work with us to translate," he said.
Celestina Soares Currently 787 people with disabilities have access to formal education from Lospalos, Ainaro, Aileu and including the special administrative region of Oe-Cusse.
This data is supported by the 2015 household census that identified a total of 38,118 people with disabilities with 787 people being from Dili, Aileu, Lospalos, Ainaro and the special administrative region of Oe-Cusse having access to formal education.
The Head of Inclusive Education, Jose Monteiro said inclusive education covers five municipalities, Dili, Aileu, Lospalos, Ainaro, Covalima, and Oe-Cusse.
"The data collected shows the 787 disabled people who have access to formal education were from Aileu, Ainaro, Dili and Lospalos municipalities, this data was collected in 2013-2014, and is now being updated," he said in Dili.
He said the people's disability, including the blind, deaf, or unable to speak (mute), with physical disabilities and as well, some people with intellectual (IQ) impairment have access to inclusive education.
"Blind people cannot see, the Ministry of Education is now preparing training about a Braille system. We have had the equipment however, we still need to check it," he said.
He added for those who are blind, access is available through technology, such as a computer and if they mistype it will sound automatically, for those who are mute can use body language. "Those who are mute need to use body language, it is very important," he said.
For those who have a physical disability, with a hand, leg or deaf, he said they are able to see, write and learn from the teacher's teaching.
"Ask the media to publish so parents know that people with disabilities, such as blind, deaf, mute now have an opportunity to access formal education like people without disabilities," he urged.
Meanwhile, the Director from CAUCUS organization, Paula Corte Real said the observation undertaken in the two municipalities Ermera and Aileu, show no facilities are available for people with disabilities to access.
"The Ministry of Education has not created the conditions, such as a Braille alphabet for blind people," she said by phone.
Therefore, she asked the Ministry of Education to create the conditions for all disabled people to access. She also added, according to the data in these two municipalities and through an audit found that 35 disabled people have access to education.
Siktus Harson, Kupang For nearly two decades, life has never been a celebration for Maria Pereira. Since she fled her home in Timor-Leste due to conflict in 1999 that led to the country's independence in 2002, her life has not improved.
Pereira now lives on her own in a small house made of wood and dried palm leaves in Raknamo, an area in Kupang district of Indonesia's East Nusa Tenggara province.
"Since I moved to this place many years ago from a UNHCR refugee camp, my life has not changed. The land where I am now is not mine. It belongs to other people," the 67-year-old told ucanews.com, referring to a tiny portion of land where her house was erected.
Her husband and three children left her for unknown reasons in the early days of those difficult years. She now depends on the assistance of her relatives and friends in Timor-Leste.
Pereira was among 250,000 East Timorese who fled to East Nusa Tenggara, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), when the country was facing political turmoil following the referendum held on Aug. 30, 1999.
In the referendum 94,388 people or 21.5 percent of East Timorese voted to remain with Indonesia, while 344,580 people or 78.5 percent chose independence.
Many have returned home after they were offered repatriation but more chose to stay in East Nusa Tenggara.
The Secretariat of Disaster Prevention and Refugees of East Nusa Tenggara recorded in 2005 that there were about 104,436 refugees, with 70,453 living in Belu district, 11,176 in North Central Timor and 11,360 in Kupang district.
Most live in poverty and have no land despite lots of money being allocated for their resettlement process during the presidency of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (2004-14).
"There was too much bureaucracy and we did not really feel its effectiveness," said Matius Alves, 40, another East Timorese.
But Alves is luckier than the others. Landowners allowed him to manage about two hectares of land on a profit-sharing condition where he plants crops such as cassava, corn, papaya and banana.
"However, it's quite a dilemma. On one hand, I am grateful. On the other hand, it's not my land and can be taken from us any time," he said.
Francisco Ximenes, a local leader from Baucau district in Timor-Leste, said people have been deprived of their rights.
"Since most of the East Timorese people are farmers, they need land to actualize themselves and fulfil daily needs. But sad to say, most people live on other people's land and they do not know its future," said Ximenes.
"In the beginning, when we arrived here [in 1999], this area was a jungle. No one claimed ownership. But after the people cut the trees and cleared the land, one by one people came to us and claimed ownership."
Ximenes lives with about 700 families in an area owned by the Indonesian military. He said once the military asked them to vacate the area. "But where are we going to?" he replied.
According to Ximenes, the government never listens to their appeals for certification of land where they are settled. With increasing prices, it is getting more difficult for people to acquire even a small portion of land.
Mariano Parada, 34, an activist from the Society of Timor-Indonesia, a non-profit group that advocates for East Timorese residents in Belu district, said that after UNHCR ended its service in 2002, people were given a chance to choose repatriation or resettlement.
He said only repatriation was successful, while resettlement was a complete failure. Most Timorese expats settled in the district are living in severe poverty except for a small number recruited by government agencies or the police.
"It's a dilemma. We chose to stay but don't have a proper place to live. Many can't go back to Timor-Leste either. Life is very difficult," he said.
Parada fears such conditions will become a time bomb that one day will lead to conflict.
"When people can no longer endure the suffering, continuously living in uncertainty, I am afraid it will end up in revenge," he said.
"People have sacrificed a lot. They left their homes and some even killed other people during the pro-Indonesia war. When those sacrifices are not paid off, I am afraid people will be rebellious," he said.
According to Parada, the Indonesian government has not paid serious attention to their plight.
"We have organized many protests demanding the government to provide electricity, healthcare and education facilities in resettlement areas. But as of today, nothing has happened," he said.
In December 2016, people appealed to President Joko Widodo to help the lives of former Timorese, particularly with land certification. "But we have not received any response," Parada said.
Father Vincent Tamelab, parish priest of St. Mary of Fatima Church in Taklale, under Kupang Archdiocese, said 95 percent of its 18,000 parishioners are East Timorese expats.
They mostly come from the districts of Los Palos, Dili, Baucau, Viqueque, Aileu, and Manatutu.
The church, he said, has often voiced its concern and asked for government help to settle land problems, but it has not been successful.
"It's strange that the government said it had given land to the people in 1999, but until now it is unclear about the status of the land," Father Tamelab said.
Father Tamelab also highlighted the Raknamo Dam that was inaugurated by Widodo on Jan. 9. The dam, covering an area of 245 hectares, will provide irrigation and clean water for people in Kupang district, including Timorese expats.
The dam is certainly good for the communities around it, particularly landowners, but it may not be good for Timorese expats. The priest feared that when the dam is in full swing in the next few years, landowners will take over the management of land currently entrusted to the expats.
"We are cautious about this. Because when the land is taken from them, they will have nothing and this will trigger another conflict," the priest said.
The parish, he said, has changed its approach to parishioners, encouraging East Timorese Catholics to be open and reach out to local people.
"If something bad happens, it will not be widespread because they have built a good relationship with local people," Father Tamelab said.
Anne Barker For a man held up as a national hero, relatively little is written about Nicolau dos Reis Lobato - especially outside East Timor. But some Timorese are hoping one chapter about Lobato's death might soon be complete.
He was the country's first prime minister after East Timor declared independence in 1975, a year after Portugal withdrew as its colonial power.
But he held the job for just nine days. In late 1975, Indonesian forces invaded and occupied East Timor as its 27th province for the next quarter of a century.
Lobato was shot dead in 1978 in the mountains outside Dili by Indonesian forces, led by then-Lieutenant Prabowo Subianto, who married but later divorced the daughter of Indonesian president Suharto.
It would be 24 years before another East Timorese succeeded Lobato as prime minister - Mari Alkatiri, the same man re-elected to the job last year.
In the years since, successive governments in Dili have refused to let Lobato's name disappear. The international airport in Dili is named after him, as is the presidential palace. There are statues of him in and outside the capital.
And yet, while his name lives on, Lobato's death continues to strain relations between the tiny nation and its powerful neighbour. Among the most difficult issues is the mystery of what happened to Lobato's body.
Now, the Alkatiri Government is leading a new push to recover his remains so Lobato can finally be given a proper burial and traditional ceremony.
East Timor's Foreign Minister Aurelio Guterres raised the matter on a recent visit to Jakarta. But so sensitive is the subject, Indonesia's Foreign Ministry denies the discussion took place.
But a senior diplomat at East Timor's embassy in Jakarta confirmed the request was made, and Indonesia stood "ready to help". However, an Australian academic said Indonesia has made similar promises before that have come to nothing.
"They have been promising this for a while," said Monash University's Sara Niner, who has written several historic accounts of East Timor. "This is an ongoing process."
Not surprisingly, much of East Timor's gruesome history under Indonesian occupation remains off-limits, despite normalised relations between the two countries.
"The rape and murder of [Lobato's] wife by Indonesian forces on Dili wharf is well known but barely spoken about," Dr Niner said.
"His baby son was passed to the sister and brought up in Jakarta under the watchful eye of the Indonesians. Maybe that is the reason they're offering assistance in finding the father now."
Newspapers in both Indonesia and East Timor have long claimed Lobato's body was taken to Indonesia soon after his death and secretly buried. Other reports have speculated the Indonesians seized his head, and left his remains in Dili.
In 2003, when remains without a skull were found in the backyard of Mr Alkatiri's own house in Dili, they were immediately thought to be those of Lobato. The United Nations sent bone fragments to Northern Territory police in Darwin.
It took years to complete forensic testing on them, and they ultimately came back without a clear result. Later tests in Dili by a joint Australian-Argentinian forensic team on samples of the remains were also inconclusive.
"We analysed those remains, and samples were collected and taken for DNA analysis," the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine's Dr Soren Blau said.
"We also were in contact with Rogerio Lobato - Nicolau's brother - who gave permission for this work to be undertaken and provided us with some ante-mortem samples to compare.
"We extracted mitochondrial DNA from those remains. No nuclear DNA survived. The remains were very poorly preserved. But the work done by our Argentinian colleagues showed there was no match."
Nevertheless, Dr Blau said she is optimistic Lobato's remains may yet be recovered.
"Some in East Timor are of the opinion that if only some people in Indonesia would give evidence, that would give more direction to these types of investigations, so time and money is not wasted," she said.
"When we spoke with families, I think many people believe that Indonesia could certainly throw some light on where individuals have been buried."
Kim McGrath The UN Compulsory Conciliation between Australia and Timor-Leste, which aims to set a boundary in the Timor Sea, appears to be inching towards resolution, with details emerging in the Portuguese media last week of a deal involving a median line boundary and a revenue-sharing arrangement for the Greater Sunrise fields.
But the history of this long-standing dispute remains contested. A recent Interpreter article by Hugh Wyndham former head of the Law of the Sea branch of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) which discusses Australia's tactics during the final days of Timor Sea treaty negotiations with Indonesia in 1972, contributes interesting, if narrowly focused, background to the dispute.
Wyndham takes issue with Michael Rose's review of my book "Crossing the Line: Australia's Secret History in the Timor Sea", arguing that "this commentary... overlooks the context in which the 1972 negotiations with Indonesia took place". Wyndham's criticism is curious given his article doesn't engage with the post-colonial and geo-political contexts of the negotiations, and instead concentrates on the technical details of the last few days of the talks.
Crossing the Line is based on examination of cabinet submissions, cables, briefs, and other declassified documents from a range of departments in the National Archives of Australia. It clearly emerges from the archives that by the early 1970s, Australian officials realised the only way they could confirm the validity of Timor Sea permits unilaterally issued by Australia to major resource companies in the early 1960s was to negotiate seabed boundaries with Indonesia and Portugal.
As Wyndham describes, Australia claimed "continental shelf rights" to the Timor Trough a deep channel parallel to the coast of Timor, 30 50 nautical miles offshore. But he does not explain the basis of Indonesia's claim to the median line.
Indonesia argued the trough was a dint in Australia's continental shelf that extended beneath Timor. International law at the time dictated that where states were on the same continental shelf, the boundary should be the median line.
In the archives I found a declassified report on the geography of the Timor Trough, by the Australian Bureau of Mineral Resources (BMR), which was requested by the DFA ahead of the first round of negotiations with Indonesia in early 1970. The report stated there was no evidence of oceanic crust at the bottom of the Timor Trough advice that supported Indonesia's position. Needless to say, the advice was ignored. Geologists today endorse the view put by the BMR.
The BMR also provided advice that the area north of the median line, opposite Portuguese Timor, was highly prospective for petroleum. But Australia refused to negotiate with Portugal until after a deal was done with Indonesia.
I argue that this strategic decision, which is not explained in the declassified files in the archives, set up the scenario under which, should Portuguese Timor become part of Indonesia, it would be a simple exercise to close the gap in the area between Portuguese Timor and Australia the Timor Gap with a ruler, joining the end points of the 1972 treaty. Wyndham insists that such a view was not a "feature in policymaking leading to the 1972 negotiations with Indonesia".
The declassified records show that in 1963, the same year of Australia's unilaterally issued Timor Sea permits, the Australian Government accepted that Portuguese Timor would eventually become part of Indonesia. And in 1965, cabinet decided not to negotiate with Portugal about the Timor Sea boundary issue because Australia didn't want to "imply a degree of acceptance on our part of Portugal's right to share in decisions permanently affecting the future of the area".
While cabinet decisions do not bind future governments, this assumption helps contextualise Australia's refusal of Portugal's numerous approaches to negotiate a boundary before the 1972 treaty with Indonesia was signed. After the 1972 treaty left the Timor Gap, Australia approached Portugal to close the end points with a straight line. An offer Portugal rejected.
From there, it appears Australia considered Portuguese Timor becoming part of Indonesia as a potential way to close the gap. A November 1973 DFA brief makes clear that "control of Portuguese Timor passing to Indonesia" was a possibility, and that DFA expected that if that happened Indonesia would agree to "a drawing of a boundary line connecting the two extremities of the agreed Australian Indonesian boundaries".
The Timor Sea boundary dispute with Portugal escalated in January 1974 when a US company was issued an exploration permit to the median line, overlapping seven Australian permits.
Australia's hard-line position continued even after a revolution in Portugal in April 1974 led to a new government that agreed to grant all Portuguese colonies independence. A further document from the time shows DFA again advised that Portuguese Timor would inevitably be incorporated into Indonesia, and warned not to let prospects for the settlement of Australia's "seabed territory (and oil rights) dispute with the Portuguese" appear to colour Australia's attitude.
The stakes were raised further when Woodside Petroleum struck oil and gas in the Greater Sunrise fields in mid 1974, very near the eastern end point of the 1972 treaty, and geologists advised the fields extended west into areas claimed by Portugal.
The diplomatic clash continued until Indonesia invaded Portuguese Timor in December 1975.
Australia's decision to negotiate with Indonesia ahead of Portugal, leaving the Timor Gap between Australia and Portuguese Timor, coupled with the expectation Indonesia would close the gap with a straight line (unlike Portugal), gave Australia a multibillion-dollar interest in an Indonesian takeover of Portuguese Timor.
Viji Menon The oil and gas sector is the mainstay of Timor-Leste's economy, with almost 90% of government revenue coming from oil. The non-petroleum economy, which scarcely existed at Independence is still very small, only about a quarter of the GDP. It is mostly generated by state spending for public administration, procurement, and infrastructure construction. Currently, the only non-oil export is coffee, whose value fluctuates with the weather and the global market.
Nearly all the petroleum revenue Timor-Leste earns at present comes from the Bayu-Undan field in the Joint Petroleum Development Area established by the Timor Sea Treaty with Australia in 2002. To manage the oil revenue, Timor-Leste established the Petroleum Fund (PF) not long after it gained independence from Indonesia in 2002.
Every year, the Ministry of Finance calculates an estimated sustainable income (ESI) benchmark. The ESI informs the decision of how much to withdraw from the PF each year to finance the state Budget; it was exceeded every year from 2008 to 2012, and again from 2014 onwards. Overspending the ESI has lowered the balance in the Fund, reducing its future investment earnings.
In May 2016, the IMF warned that "withdrawals from the Petroleum Fund remained above the level consistent with the estimated sustainable income (ESI), in part to finance front-loaded capital investments. This, coupled with lower oil receipts and negative net investment returns due largely to foreign exchange valuation losses, saw the balance of the Fund decline for the first time, to US$16.2 billion at the end of 2015".
In line with the government's Strategic Development Plan (SDP) for 2011-2030, the bulk of the infrastructure spending so far has been for roads, bridges, electricity, airports and ports. There is a need for improved roads and infrastructure to link the rural populations to urban centres and improve access to schools, health services, markets and employment.
Then Prime Minister Rui Araujo in his statement to Parliament in November 2016 on the 2017 budget explained what front-loading was. He said "front-loading" for capital expenditures taking more than the sustainable amount from the Petroleum Fund was justified because they will produce social, economic and financial returns in the medium and long term.
However, since 2011, the government embarked on two capital-intensive projects in isolated areas which have come under criticism from several quarters. Foremost among these is the Tase Mane project, on the south coast of the island. The project is based on plans for a future petroleum industry and includes a supply base, a refinery, an LNG plant, a 156-km highway, oil pipelines, and the Suai airport (already built). Critics of the project say that it will make Timor-Leste even more dependent on the oil and gas sector.
The second large project is in the enclave of Oecussi (bordering Indonesian West Timor). This enclave is geographically isolated and the project includes the development of an airport (already completed), a multi-storey hotel, a hospital and a university, among others. Many NGOs and other Timorese fear that the project may not benefit the local population as the country lacks the necessary skills required to participate in the project.
The Ministry of Finance has been reducing its predictions for future oil and gas revenues from Bayu-Undan which will end production by 2020 or 2022. Petroleum experts, economists and politicians differ as to whether the savings in the Petroleum Fund will run out in another 10 or 15 years, depending on how much the government withdraws from the Fund and the world demand for oil.
The local NGO, La'o Hamutuk which follows the Petroleum Fund closely, has predicted that "if projected levels of spending are carried out...the Fund could be drawn down to US$10 billion by 2020 and to zero by 2026."
Timorese officials however are upbeat about Timor-Leste's future because of the untapped oil resources in the Greater Sunrise field and in areas onshore. On the former, since January 2017, Timor-Leste and Australia have had several rounds of discussions on maritime boundary delimitation between them in the Timor Sea.
In December 2017, a press statement issued following the latest round of talks stated that the parties had reached agreement on the text of a treaty which delimited the maritime boundary between them in the Timor Sea. It also addressed the legal status of the Greater Sunrise gas field, the establishment of a Special Regime for Greater Sunrise, a pathway to the development of the resource, and the sharing of the resulting revenue.
The treaty is expected to be signed in March this year. The details of the agreement have not been made public but there are indications that the Timorese government is satisfied with the outcome: Timor-Leste will receive a greater percentage of the revenue from Greater Sunrise than under the old treaty between the two countries, which has now been terminated. Exploration is also ongoing for possible oil resources onshore in several places in the country.
Timor-Leste's leaders now have a window of opportunity to make full use of its potential oil resources for sustainable development. It has a young population, and ensuring that they are educated, healthy and productively employed are the biggest development challenges facing the country. The World Bank has advised the country that it "needs to diversify its economy and sources of revenue, elevate the quality of health and education services, and equip the population with viable skills".
In July 2016, Prime Minister Araujo, in a speech to Timor-Leste's development partners, stated that the government "is aware of the challenges we continue to face. We are striving to improve public service delivery, promote the diversification of our economy, and improve the quality of our infrastructure". With far-sightedness, wisdom, and courage, Timorese leaders can make the best decisions for their people's future and avoid the pitfalls that have befallen other countries with easy access to non-renewable wealth.
Luke Hunt ASEAN aspirant Timor-Leste is being democratically tested today, with new elections slated after the minority government formed just last year failed to get its budget and policy platform passed by parliament.
But while headline writers and publishers are using this to question the merits of democracy and the government of President Francisco "Lu-Olo" Guterres, the reality is this exercise is also thoroughly refreshing in a region where democracy is on the skids.
That's not to say that Timor-Leste's democracy is a state of utopia far from it. But when compared with most of the rest of ASEAN, the government in Dili has credentials that the rest of Southeast Asia pays only lip service to.
Of the ten nations in ASEAN, Vietnam and Laos remain one-party communist states, while Singapore and Malaysia have never been tested by a change of political parties in government.
Move on then to consider the state of democracies in the region: Thailand has endured a coup and broken promises over election dates, while the election of President Rodrigo Duterte has seen repeated attempts to undermine democracy in the Philippines.
The list goes on. In Cambodia, the opposition has been dissolved. In Myanmar, elections and a change in government have failed to curb military control and raised fundamental questions about the state of its people. Brunei has witnessed some troubling trends despite some cosmetic changes of late, including the introduction of Shariah law.
So when Guterres said, "I ask the people to vote again. We will all go to vote. We will all go to elections to improve our democracy," this was refreshing for those used to these bleaker stories elsewhere around the region. It was a far cry from the threats of war and social turmoil used by leaders elsewhere to justify power grabs and the entrenchment of ruling elites.
Guterres bowed after critics claimed his minority government was unconstitutional, with the 2018 budget rejected by parliament in December and his policy program gone unaccepted in October.
Fresh elections were also backed by the two biggest parties in parliament, Fretilin, which led the minority government, and the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT).
That came on the heels of last year's election, the first unsupervised round of polls held since UN peacekeepers left in 2012, which failed to deliver a decisive victory. Fretilin secured 23 seats, with the CNRT, led by independence hero Xanana Gusmao, coming in a close second with 22 seats.
But the poll was hailed as a tremendous success in this long troubled country with a history of just 16 years and just around 1.3 million people, who turned out in large numbers to vote.
As one observer noted for The Diplomat: From blogs, Facebook, public forums, and community spaces across Timor-Leste, the public sphere has been vibrant and dynamic during the election season. This is an indication of a popular interest in Timorese politics among its people. Public discourse is now much more important in the country than it was during the past.
Meanwhile, even as Timor-Leste's record on democracy is much better than that of its Southeast Asian peers, its admission to ASEAN has been repeatedly delayed. Dili submitted an application to join ASEAN in 2011, when Indonesia took its turn as chair of the group, and member countries agreed to undertake a feasibility study. Yet progress has been much slower than originally intended, even if it might eventually occur.
Some might argue that the current political stalemate reinforces the point about needing to be cautious before accepting Dili's attempt to join ASEAN. But these issues are surely trifling affairs when considered in light of issues and delays that occurred when Cambodia, and to a lesser extent Vietnam, Myanmar, and Laos, which finally joined in the 1990s.
There are no guarantees that fresh elections will resolve the current political stalemate in Timor-Leste. But its ability to work through the democratic process in a region where political stability is under threat by politicians seeking to subvert democratic values should be seen as a big step by a small country with a troubled past in the wider-world.
Jose Belo, Dili As Timor-Leste's minority government lost control over parliament in the four months since it was installed by President Francisco Guterres Lu Olo in September 2017, caretaker prime minister Mari Alkatiri turned to Facebook to try and get his message out and threaten censorship. At times, it seemed like he was spending more time raging on social media than actually governing, causing some to compare him to Donald Trump's outbursts on Twitter.
In the country's mainstream media, newspaper headlines quoting the caretaker prime minister nearly always began with language phrased in the negative sense. "Mari says I won't... Mari says I don't... Mari says not to..." became a daily occurrence in the nation's papers. Negativity rather than a coherent message became the norm.
In parliament, on the few occasions it was allowed to sit and debate, parliamentary members of Fretilin, which has morphed from revolutionary guerilla force to a major political party - some of whom had been children living outside the country during the Indonesian occupation - harangued the majority opposition for being, in some way or another, opposed to what they saw as Fretilin's single-handed role in obtaining the country's independence. Substantive arguments about the law or constitution were studiously avoided in order to try and belittle or intimidate opposition deputies. So was the fact that independence was obtained by more than the work of one party.
On Facebook, Fretilin supporters swarmed around anybody who tried to express an idea or opinion different from their party line. It was as if the party hierarchy had developed an internal party manual for cadres to use on social media. Any comment that seemed contrary to their propaganda machine was attacked. Just like in parliament, on Facebook rationality was ignored without any logical reason or explanation being offered as to why the person being attacked was incorrect.
The social media manual also seemed to prescribe another tactic. Whenever the Fretilin swarm was unable to silence those voicing an opinion, or was shown up for being irrational or illogical, the comments they made were mysteriously deleted and blocked. The manual probably suggested that in this way the attackers would leave no evidence. However, opposition commentators and others soon caught on to this and began taking screenshots to preserve these attempts at intimidation for the future.
As the minority government felt itself to be more and more under siege, the caretaker prime minister's Facebook posts intensified. On Dec. 9, Alkatiri announced on Facebook that: "I am in Oecusse. Tomorrow I will return to Dili with new and full strength, to face any challenge. There is only one: Early election in March!"
On Dec. 19, the majority opposition voted against the government's amendment to the budget. A few hours later, Alkatiri was back on Facebook: "Congratulations to the Fretilin/PD bench. Once again the opposition has been defeated by their own vote (against his budget). Struggle to win!"
In October, the opposition had also voted down the government's program (an essential requirement for their ability to govern). Alkatiri then failed to re-present the program by the Nov. 15 deadline, which left him as only a caretaker prime minister. But in early January, Alkatiri was back on Facebook seemingly confused about past events when he posted: "The seventh government's program has passed a long time ago. Because the opposition only rejected it once. Thanks to the opposition."
But unable to engage in debate or take criticism, he would immediately block anyone who, publicly or privately, questioned his statements or tactics. He would not only block ordinary people questioning him, but also opposition members of parliament on Facebook, who you would have assumed had a legitimate right to challenge him in this public forum. These tactics could only be interpreted as, at their very least, symptoms of a minority government and a prime minister under enormous pressure. They also gave rise to a fear that the prime minister did indeed have a strong anti-democratic streak. His followers tried to excuse his behavior, with the claim that they were yet again the victims of foreign interference - whether it be China, Indonesia, Australia or the U.S. These absurd claims were in line with the defense minister's statement, made last December, that some members of the majority opposition were in fact American spies.
Soon Facebook posts suggested a law should be brought in to control criticism of politicians on social media. Then the caretaker prime minister gave an interview on national television stating that he would sue anyone who continued to 'insult' him on Facebook. Not only did this again reinforce fears that free speech may be jeopardized, they brought to the fore the main difference between the Fretilin leadership and the political culture of the nation. Timorese society and politics gives precedence to inclusion and discussion.
In the past Xanana Gusmao has always widely consulted and taken advice from others outside his party or close circle of advisors. It is a practice consistent with the country's communal society. In many ways, the coming election is a fight between that inclusive communal way of doing politics, deeply rooted in Timorese culture, and a leadership that sees politics where one party's closed leadership circle must decide and drag the rest of the country along with it, no matter what the population on Facebook or any other place think or say.
The machine continued to post strange analysis of the facts when after the president dissolved parliament because of Fretilin's own inability to govern, their spokesperson Matias Boavida posted on Facebook: "The opposition has lost the political game and the government will maintain its rule and will rule for 6 years."
The Turnbull Government will be watching with interest and angst for a soon-to-be-released book which sheds light on an extraordinary chapter of Australian-East Timor history, writes Alex Mitchell.
Canberra lawyer Bernard Collaery has written an explosive account of his legal battle to secure the rights of East Timor over offshore gas fields. His untitled book is held under lock and key in London where Collaery works on the final chapter.
The extraordinary secrecy surrounding the production of his book reads like a John Le Carre spy novel. But there are good reasons for the elaborate precautions that he is taking.
In December 2013, Collaery's law practice in Canberra was raided by agents from the Australian Security and Intelligence Agency (ASIO) acting on a warrant issued by then Attorney-General George Brandis, the recently appointed Australian High Commissioner in London.
Brandis confirmed that his raiding party seized documents "on the grounds that they contained intelligence related to security matters".
In fact, Brandis was complicit in a cack-handed attempt to intimidate a witness who was about to testify that he had bugged East Timorese Cabinet ministers and officials over their legal action to gain fair and adequate royalties for natural gas from fields within the country's territorial waters.
According to independent sources, the Australian government stood to receive $40 billion in oil and gas revenue from the project in the "Greater Sunrise" basin while the poverty-stricken East Timorese would have received "crumbs".
The ASIO raid was regarded as a strong-arm tactic to put maximum pressure on the former ASIS agent, known as "Witness K", who was due to give evidence about the original bugging of the Timorese government's Cabinet office.
His evidence threatened to sink the Australian government's defence because the witness was irreproachable: he had been a member of the ASIS team which installed the electronic bugging equipment.
Collaery, who has a history of taking up legal cudgels on behalf of Indigenous clients, refugees and citizens victimised by bureaucratic incompetence, said at the time of the ASIO raid: "These tactics are designed to intimidate the witness and others coming forward. It's designed to cover up an illegal operation in 2004 by ASIS."
At the time then Prime Minister Tony Abbott quickly defended the ASIO raid saying: "We don't interfere in cases, but we always act to ensure that our national security is being properly upheld. That's what we're doing."
When the raid took place, former Perth journalist David Irvine was the head of ASIS (2003-2009) and he was ASIO's director-general (2009-2014) when Collaery launched legal action in The Hague.
Australia's foreign minister during most of this critical time was Alexander Downer, until recently Australian High Commissioner in London. Downer was a prime witness in the Australian Wheat Board's UN sanctions-busting scandal involving President Saddam Hussein of Iraq and then he became a principal partner in the negotiations for LNG rights for the fledging government of Timor-Leste.
In the past few weeks it has been revealed that Downer received information about Russian links with Donald Trump's Republican campaign for the US presidential election and the dossier was subsequently leaked to the FBI in Washington DC. By this stage, Downer's career was starting to look more like the Pink Panther's rather than George Smiley's.
Collaery and other observers of the Timor-Leste deal with global mining giant Woodside Petroleum were uncomfortable with Downer's decision to accept a position as a highly-paid lobbyist for Woodside after he left politics in 2008. Collaery, a former member of the ACT Assembly (1989-1992), deputy Chief Minister and the ACT's second Attorney-General, is hoping his book will throw the spotlight on the Australian government's bullying behaviour towards smaller neighbouring countries.
In a guarded Lowy Institute address two years ago Collaery spoke publicly about some of the issues in his forthcoming book. "I can reveal that Witness K is no ordinary intelligence officer," he said. "He is a patriotic, loyal, very long-serving senior Australian who stood up for our national security.
"The other thing I want to reveal is, after we drafted a letter to Julia Gillard, saying we wanted confidential arbitration in relation to the espionage, it was the Labor government that authorised clandestine monitoring and other devices to be installed in my chambers, offices and Witness K's home."
But perhaps the politically damaging revelation will impact on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Shortly after he defeated Tony Abbott in September 2015 to become Australia's 29th prime minister, the Timor-Leste government requested formal talks to settle the legal impasse. Turnbull rejected the approach out of hand.
Collaery's book may prove that this arrogance was fatally short-sighted.