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Aust-East Timor conciliation underway

AAP logoAAP 29/08/2016 Lloyd Jones, AAP Europe Correspondent

East Timor's former president Xanana Gusmao says his nation will not rest until it gains it's full sovereign rights over its seas, including resource-rich zones claimed by Australia.

Speaking at the start of a United Nations Conciliation Commission hearing in The Hague on Monday, Mr Gusmao said East Timor was not seeking “favours or special treatment” but only its rights under international law.

At the hearing Australia will argue that the commission doesn't have jurisdiction to hear the landmark maritime boundary dispute.

East Timor initiated the first of its kind compulsory conciliation action under the UN convention on the law of the sea after Australia continued to refuse to negotiate a permanent boundary.

Mr Gusmao referred to Australia's recognition of Indonesian occupation of his country in defiance of UN resolutions before East Timor finally became independent in 2002.

He said a pre-independence agreement between Australia and Indonesia on carving up the Timor Sea, celebrated by officials who drank champagne while flying over that sea “filled us with much sadness”.

Mr Gusmao also referred to claims that Australia had installed listening devices in the offices of the East Timorese cabinet in an apparent bid to listen in on discussions about the ongoing maritime boundary dispute between the two nations.

“When these came to light we were shocked and appalled,” Mr Gusmao said.

He said his country remained one of the least developed countries in the world and when it gained independence was in a vulnerable state and was cornered into signing an earlier agreement over provisional sea boundaries.

The international sea boundary should be based on a line halfway between the two countries, Mr Gusmao said.

“We will not rest until we have our sovereign rights over both land and sea.”

In a statement before the start of Monday's session, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said Australian officials would argue “in full accordance with international law” that the commission did not have jurisdiction to conduct hearings on maritime boundaries.

Australia would abide by the commission's finding as to whether it has jurisdiction but if the commission found it did have jurisdiction then its final report wasn't binding, she said.

Agreements between Australia and East Timor signed in 2002 and 2006 set out temporary arrangements for sharing of oil and gas reserves.

Ms Bishop said Australia's officials led by Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade deputy secretary Gary Quinlan would reaffirm the country's principled commitment to upholding existing treaty obligations with Timor-Leste.

"These have benefited both our countries, and enabled Timor-Leste to accumulate a Petroleum Fund worth more than $16 billion, more than eight times its annual GDP," she said.

The commission's hearing is scheduled to last several days.

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