A high-level United Nations official in East Timor today said that the UN mission and the territory's transitional administration were "flexible" in the negotiations with Australia over a Timor Sea dispute, but that the strength of East Timor, given its small size, was in international law.
Returning from the second round of negotiations on the Timor Sea with the Government of Australia, Cabinet Member for Economic Affairs Mari Alkatiri today described the talks as a "setback." He said that the position of the UN mission (UNTAET) and the East Timor Transitional Administration (ETTA) was that if the territory applied current international law, 100 per cent of the resources of the cooperation zone in the Timor Sea would belong to East Timor.
"But since there is an overlapping of claims, international law advises that a solution be found through negotiations," Mr. Alkatiri said.
At the talks, which were held in Melbourne, Australia, from 4 to 6 April, the ETTA/UNTAET delegation was led by Mr. Alkatiri and Peter Galbraith, Cabinet Member for Political Affairs and Timor Sea.
The delegation also had an informal meeting with the Australian Minister for Industry, Science and Resources, Senator Nick Minchin. This meeting was "the most fruitful of all negotiations," according to Mr. Alkatiri, who said he could not elaborate at this point.
The next round of talks has been set for the end of April or beginning of May. UNTAET said in a statement issued today in Dili that the talks were expected to be more political, rather than technical.
According to the statement, UNTAET and ETTA believe the deadline for a political solution to the dispute should be 15 July, when the campaign for the 30 August elections starts in East Timor. By then the Transitional Cabinet is expected to be dissolved.
"A future treaty governing the resources of the Timor Sea should be signed by independence day," UNTAET officials said.