January 12, 2017
Timor-Leste’s win against Goliath Oz
Cristo Rei of Dili is a statue that depicts Jesus Christ on top of a globe, and is located in the capital city of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste.
The idyllic beauty of Timor Leste
A treaty that is unfair to one of South-East Asia’s poorest countries will be repealed to enable it to redraw a more realistic border with Australia.
I WAS in a village in Jakarta, Indonesia over the weekend and I was smeared by all and sundry.
This was a “smear campaign” of the joyous kind, though, held annually to mark the start of the year in Kg Tugu, near the port of Tanjung Priok.
The ritual is called Mandi Mandi but the water is only used to mix a beige talcum powder into a paste, which is then smudged on the faces of everyone, symbolising forgiveness in an atmosphere of fun.
Now referred to as Keluarga besar Tugu (Big family of Tugu), they were once known as Mardjikers, a corruption of the Sanskrit Maharddhika meaning “prosperous”, which acquired the meaning of a free person in the region. The word Merdeka (independence), used in Malay and Bahasa Indonesia, can be traced to mardjiker.
In 1653, the original group of former slaves were offered freedom on the condition that they changed their faith from Catholic to Protestant. Eight years later, 150 people from 23 families were given a place to settle down.
Kg Tugu was then a harsh swathe of forests and mosquito-ridden swamps and many died from malaria. However, the community survived despite the odds and have kept part of their culture, traditions and music alive over the centuries.
At the Mandi Mandi festival, the surprise presence of Xanana Gusmao, 71, the former guerrilla leader who led Timor-Leste to independence from Indonesia on May 20, 2002, made it a truly special event.
East Timor was a colony of Portugal until it first declared independence in late 1975, only to be invaded and occupied by Indonesia until a UN-backed referendum in 1999 paved the way for independence three years later.
When I last met him in Malacca in June 2016, Gusmao was in the midst of resolving a bitter dispute over Timor-Leste’s maritime border with Australia through the United Nation’s 1982 Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
UNCLOS gives all coastal states the right to a 200-nautical-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) from the sea surface to under the seabed.
Australia signed the convention in 1994 but in March 2002, two months before Timor-Leste’s independence, it pulled out of compulsory jurisdiction of international courts and tribunals on matters relating to maritime boundaries. In 2006, East Timor and Australia signed a treaty on Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea (CMATS) but no permanent border was set.
Under the original pact, Timor-Leste received 90% of current oil revenues from the joint petroleum development area, and Australia 10%, but the further Sunrise IUA treaty gives Timor-Leste only limited claim over future exploitation of the larger Greater Sunrise field.
It prevented any negotiations on boundaries for 50 years, although the line should rightly sit halfway between the countries, placing most of the oil and gas in Timor-Leste’s territory.
In December 2013, Australian police and Security Intelligence Organisation officers seized files and computers from a lawyer advising Timor-Leste in the dispute over CMATS.
The lawyer, a former Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) agent, was reported to have prepared documents exposing Australian espionage to secure advantage for the country during negotiations for CMATS in 2004. His passport was cancelled, preventing him from travelling to The Hague, where the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) was due to hear an application to cancel the treaty.
The ASIS agents, who pretended to be aid workers, bugged the walls of an office where ministers met, gaining information that gave Australia advantage in the negotiations before the treaty was signed against an impoverished and vulnerable neighbour.
Gusmao described the raids as “unconscionable and unacceptable conduct” and when Australia refused to return the documents, Timor-Leste filed for a hearing at the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
The episode sullied Australia’s “fair go” reputation and in September last year, the PCA agreed to take up the dispute.
On Saturday, before Gusmao’s face was smeared and he went around smearing others, he told me that things were going well and to expect a good announcement soon.
And on Monday, reports revealed that Australia had to eat humble pie. A joint statement from both countries said CMATS would no longer apply after three months.
“The Government of Australia has taken note of this wish and recognises that Timor-Leste has the right to initiate the termination of the treaty,” the statement read.
For now, it means Timor-Leste has won another “David vs Goliath” battle and the situation will revert to the 2002 treaty which set up the joint petroleum development area.
Media Consultant M. Veera Pandiyan