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East Timor, Australia set date for new sea border deal

[SYDNEY] Australia and East Timor are targeting a September date to agree a new sea border after tearing up a contentious maritime treaty which cut through lucrative oil and gas fields, both sides said Tuesday.

Dili and Canberra have been in dispute over the issue for a decade and last year went to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.

East Timor announced this month that it has officially notified its southern neighbour that the Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea (Cmats) agreement, which carved up future revenue from oil and gas reserves in the area, will cease to be in force from April 10.

The two parties and the court issued a joint statement Tuesday noting "their commitment to work in good faith towards an agreement on maritime boundaries by the end of the conciliation process in September 2017.

"The (conciliation) commission intends to do its utmost to help the Parties reach an agreement that is both equitable and achievable," it said.

Impoverished East Timor, which gained independence from Indonesian occupation in 2002, relies heavily on oil and gas exports.

In 2006 it signed the Cmats treaty with Australia, which covers the vast Greater Sunrise gas field between the two nations that is worth billions of dollars.

But Dili later accused Canberra of spying to gain commercial advantage during the 2004 negotiations and demanded the treaty be ripped up.

Australia had argued the treaty was legal, binding and valid, but agreed to end it in line with Dili's wishes on January 9.

All sides "recognise the importance of providing stability and certainty for petroleum companies with current rights in the Timor Sea," the statement said.

"The Parties are committed to providing a stable framework for existing petroleum operations. They have agreed that the 2002 Timor Sea Treaty ... will remain in force ... until a final delimitation of maritime boundaries has come into effect."


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