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Australia, East Timor Settle Long-Running Border Dispute


East Timorese Minister of State Agio Pereira and Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop talk before signing a treaty during a ceremony at United Nations headquarters, March 6, 2018.

East Timor and Australia have agreed on a maritime boundary for the first time. The historic deal ends a decade-long dispute between the neighbors over rights to rich oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea. The agreement was signed at the U.N. headquarters in New York, after negotiations in the international court of arbitration.

The treaty will give East Timor, one of the world's poorest countries, the majority of any future oil and gas revenue in the Timor Sea.

In 2002, East Timor, also known as Timor Leste, gained independence from Indonesia, but no permanent maritime boundary was established with Australia.

Disagreements over rights to oil and gas reserves have festered ever since.

The new deal means the East Timorese will receive at least 70 percent of revenue from Greater Sunrise. It is the largest oil field in the Timor Sea — worth an estimated $40 billion — but it has yet to be mined. Meanwhile, negotiations continue over sharing the field.

“It is a landmark event, not only for our two nations but also for international law. Both our governments have deemed this to be a just and equitable outcome,” said Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.

The agreement was signed at the United Nations in New York, after negotiations in the international court of arbitration.

The flags of East Timor, left, and Australia are displayed during a ceremony at United Nations headquarters, March 6, 2018.
The flags of East Timor, left, and Australia are displayed during a ceremony at United Nations headquarters, March 6, 2018.

Under a groundbreaking process of compulsory conciliation, East Timor had taken on Australia, its bigger and more powerful neighbor.

East Timor's borders minister Agio Pereira says justice has prevailed.

“So much work needs to be done after today, but what we wanted to achieve when we instituted this process of conciliation has been achieved. That is the permanent maritime boundaries,” said Pereira.

The treaty is crucial for East Timor's economic future, given its overreliance on diminishing royalties from other resource projects.

The government in Dili said the signing of the deal was a“momentous day.” The U.N. has praised the "vision and determination" of both nations in achieving a historic agreement.

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