Australia, East Timor end decade-long dispute over maritime border

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The treaty was the result of the first-ever conciliation under the United Nations convention on the law of the sea, brought by Timor-Leste, angry at revelations Australian spies had allegedly bugged the offices of Timorese officials during previous negotiations.

Timor-Leste has struck a historic deal with Australia granting it majority ownership of offshore gas fields believed to be worth as much as $65 billion, marking the end of a sixteen-year legal dispute between the two nations over their lack of a maritime boundary.

"By delimiting the maritime boundary between Australia and Timor-Leste in the Timor Sea and by establishing a special regime for the area comprising the Greater Sunrise gas field, this agreement puts Australia and Timor-Leste in a better position to exercise their respective rights and obligations under the Convention (on the Law of the Sea) in an effective manner", Guterres said.

The two sides and the Sunrise joint venture have not yet agreed on a way to develop Greater Sunrise.

However, the countries could not come to an agreement on how to develop the field, and will continue negotiations.

The UN secretary general, Antonio Guterres, a former prime minister of Portugal who had campaigned for Timor-Leste's independence, spoke at the event.

Sunrise offered East Timor many incentives to choose Darwin.

As far back as 2002, then-Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer warned that re-drawing the maritime boundaries with East Timor could have a knock effect and lead to re-negotiation of the maritime boundaries between Australia and Indonesia. "This moment also provides hope for the peaceful resolution of disputes around the world".

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Timor-Leste's Minister Agio Pereira said: "Thanks to the strong commitment of the leadership of both countries to this conciliation process, we have arrived at an agreement on maritime boundaries that is equitable, and consistent with worldwide law".

Pereira, calling the treaty "equatable, forward-looking", said it will institute certainty in global investment and economic development for Timor Leste.

The signing represented "a new chapter in the friendship between our two countries".

East Timor's Deputy Prime Minister Agio Pereira said both nations would now press on with talks about developing Greater Sunrise. "It reinforces our respect for, and the importance of, the global rules-based order in resolving disputes".

"Our treaty reflects the value and importance of those rules and institutions, and the benefits for states in abiding by those rules".

Bishop said that under the treaty, revenue from exploiting the sea's natural resources will be split either 80-20 or 70-30, with the lions share going to impoverished East Timor.

Bishop noted each country recommended two members of the commission and all "played an objective, forthright and rigorously independent role".

"The conciliation shows how worldwide law can enable countries to resolve their disputes peacefully".

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