Pacific Media Watch

16 December 2013

TIMOR SEA: Australia 'spy on Timor-Leste' claims, protests stir uproar

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A demonstration across the road from the Australian Embassy in Dili over allegations of Australia spying on Timor-Leste during Timor Sea maritime oil negotiations. Image: Tempo Semanal

DILI (Global Voices / ETAN / Tempo Semanal / La'o Hamutuk): Fresh accusations of spying on East Timorese leaders levelled against Australia over when the two countries were negotiating a gas treaty in 2004 has stirred protests in Dili and an uproar in news media and on cyberspace.

After learning about the spying, the East Timor government wanted to revoke the deal it signed with Australia, the Global Voices south-east Asian editor reports.

Blogger, commentator and former Filipino congressman Mong Palatino writes:

Tensions rose last week when the Australia Security Intelligence Office raided the Canberra office of the lawyer who is representing East Timor in the spying case. East Timor is now demanding the return of the documents seized by government agents from the lawyer’s office.

Former East Timor president Jose Ramos-Horta criticised Australia over the spying allegations:

"When you try to listen in to phone conversations of the president of Indonesia, a friendly country, or his own wife, or when you spy on a friendly neighbour like Timor-Leste which Australia helped to free in 1999 and which Australia claimed to be a friend, well it really undermines 10 years of our relationship…

"Australia likes to lecture Timor-Leste and other countries about transparency and integrity in public life. Well, this has not been a very good example of transparency and honesty."

Horta was referring to the news report about Australia’s spying activities in Indonesia which created a diplomatic conflict between the two countries.

East Timor citizens held a protest outside the Austalia Embassy in Dili in relation to the spying case. One of the protesters identified Australia Aid as a cover for the Australian government’s spying operations:

"The problem is they steal our oil then sell it in other places to buy some kind of equipment bring to East Timor trough AusAid Funding. Because of all this reason this afternoon I would like to bring to the attention of the Timorese community and International community to be careful dealing with people from AusAid. AusAid is an espionage  agent."

Meanwhile, the Movement Against the Occupation of the Timor Sea urged Australia to ‘stop stealing and occupying the Timor Sea’:

"For many years, Australia has been stealing the oil and gas from the Timor Sea, in an area which belongs to Timor-Leste under international legal principles. Sadly, Australia has shown its manner and its greed to make our small and poor country in this region lose our resources and sovereignty.

"Stop stealing and occupying the Timor Sea, but show your good will as a large nation which follows democratic principles to accept a maritime boundary which follows international law principles."

The Timor Sea Justice Campaign provides background to the uneven gas negotiation between Australia and East Timor

"As a sovereign nation East Timor wants maritime boundaries and is legally entitled to have them. Unfortunately, the Australian Government has persistently refused to establish permanent maritime boundaries with East Timor in accordance with current international law.

"The uneven negotiating positions have resulted in a series of temporary resource sharing agreements that short-change East Timor of billions of dollars worth of government royalties generated by oil and gas resources located in the Timor Sea.

The Dili protests were documented on Twitter by the independent investigative weekly Tempo Semanal @temposemanal:

The development research NGO and watchdog on economic policy La’o Hamutuk calculated the amount which Australia "stole" from East Timor:

How much money has Australia taken from Timor-Leste? Our very conservative calculations show that Australia received more than two billion US dollars in government revenues from Laminaria-Corallina through the end of 2012, and the actual figure is significantly higher.

Mong Palatino is Global Voices regional editor for South-east Asia. He is an activist and two-term member of the Philippine house of representatives. He has been blogging since 2004 at mongster's nest.

Note: La'o Hamutuk also published damning allegations about a "fabricated" news story by a stringer in Dili for Agence France-Presse news agency.

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