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Timor-Leste celebrates 15 years of independence still waiting for maritime border

May 20, 2017 - TIMOR-LESTE

The 15th anniversary of independence from Indonesia sees an aggrieved East Timor with no maritime border and unfinished business with Australia.

The tiny country that shares an island with Indonesian West Timor can boast a functioning democracy, with regular elections and transfers of power despite sometimes bloody political infighting. The economy has achieved "average economic growth rates of around 10 percent over the last eight years," according to Prime Minister Rui Maria de Araujo, writing in the Washington Times in Oct 2015. He also applauded his country's achievements in establishing from scratch "a system of parliamentary and semi-presidential democracy, a civil service, a justice system and social services from the ashes of war."

His country won't be fully sovereign, he asserted, until its border with Australia in the Timor Sea is permanently demarcated. Lucrative oil and gas fields are at stake, and Timor-Leste is unhappy with the temporary agreement governing the disputed Timor Sea oilfields. The South China Morning Post reports that the world's oldest arbitration tribunal - the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) at the Hague - has agreed to take up the case. Australia has argued that the court has no jurisdiction in the dispute.

The government is unlikely to have any news on the dispute by the independence celebrations in Dili, where tribute will be paid to the Timorese who died during the independence struggle. When their Portuguese colonial occupiers withdrew in 1975, Indonesia claimed the territory for itself and suppressed the independence movement. Some 183,000 people died from fighting, starvation or disease, according to widely accepted reports. The United Nations took charge of the administration and supervised the transition to independence of the country of some 1.1 million people.

No end to Timor-Leste's political infighting (South East Asia Globe 20 May 2016)

Timor-Leste, hiding in plain sight on the world map (Washington Times 7 Oct 2015)?

Hague court to arbitrate in East Timor-Australia maritime border dispute (South China Morning Post 26 Sep 2016)

East Timor country profile (BBC Nov 2016)

Date written/update: 2017-02-10