Thursday, 12 February 2004

Questions (87)

Pádraic McCormack

Question:

68 Mr. McCormack asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on the situation in East Timor; if he will further report on the negotiations between East Timor and the Australian Government regarding maritime boundaries; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4313/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

In their efforts to build a nation, the people of Timor-Leste have shown great political maturity, and good progress has been made in the establishment of democracy there. Every effort is being made by the new government to consolidate democratic institutions and the rule of law.

The special representative of the United Nations' Secretary General for Timor-Leste gave a briefing to the Security Council on 15 October 2003. He said that the advances and gains since independence had been remarkable, especially in the areas of governance, open leadership, enactment of legislation, rehabilitation of infrastructure, responsible development planning and budgetary discipline, the country's regional integration, and, most importantly, the commitment to democratic norms and personal freedoms.

On 21 May 2002, the Security Council established a UN mission of support in East Timor, UNMISET, for an initial period of 12 months. In May 2003, the Security Council renewed its mandate for a further 12 months. UNMISET is gradually being reduced in preparation for its complete withdrawal in May 2004. The government of Timor-Leste expressed its hope in December that the UN would extend its mandate beyond May 2004, to help consolidate infrastructure and reassure the community about security. The Security Council will continue to monitor developments in Timor-Leste.

In spite of the achievements of the past three years, and despite continued progress, there are still major tasks to be accomplished. Timor-Leste faces a number of challenges including supporting core administrative functions, building and strengthening the justice system, completing the investigations undertaken by the special crimes investigation unit set up under UNMISET, and creating a favourable climate for sustainable social and economic development. It remains one of the poorest nations in the world, and there is a critical need for the continued support of the international community.

Negotiations on the definition of maritime boundaries are complex. Both Timor-Leste and Australia claim the same parts of the Timor Sea, an area with vast reserves of oil and gas. Timor-Leste wants the border, which currently gives Australia the majority of seabed between them, to run halfway between their coastlines. Australia on the other hand wants the boundary to remain as it is. However, it has signed the Timor Sea Treaty with Timor-Leste, giving Timor-Leste 90% of the revenue from oil deposits there. This issue was discussed at the EU-Australia ministerial Troika on 21 January, when Foreign Minister Downer advised us that Australia is committed to resolving this issue with Timor-Leste.

In March 2003, the Government announced that Ireland had accorded Timor-Leste programme "country status" for development co-operation purposes. This announcement is recognition of the significant progress made to date in Timor-Leste, and demonstrates our continuing commitment to its political and socio-economic development and to the promotion of good governance and human rights in these crucial formative years. The Ireland Aid Timor-Leste country strategy covers the period 2003-2005, and provides for funding of more than €11 million.

Ireland will continue to play its part in the provision of ongoing international support for Timor-Leste, and will continue to follow developments there very closely.

Question No. 69 answered with QuestionNo. 20.