AMSTERDAM Jan 20 East Timor demanded on Monday
that Australia return seized documents relating to the two
countries' negotiations over oil and gas reserves thought to be
worth tens of billions of dollars.
The dispute brought before the United Nations' top court
pits one of Asia's poorest countries against its wealthy giant
neighbour, Australia, in a case involving spy agencies, bugging
allegations, snatched documents and potentially huge rewards
from developing oil and gas fields.
The hearings at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in
the Hague, in a case brought by East Timor against Australia,
concern seized documents allegedly showing how Australia may
have used intelligence to outmanoeuvre East Timor in talks over
the Greater Sunrise oil and gas fields.
The two countries are in dispute over revenue-sharing as
well as how best to develop the gas fields, located 150 km
southeast of East Timor and 450 km northwest of Darwin,
The seized documents contained legal advice and details of
East Timor's negotiating position and strategy in relation to
Australia, Sir Elihu Lauterpacht, East Timor's lawyer, told
judges on Monday, putting Dili "at a considerable negotiating
and litigating disadvantage".
East Timor wants the ICJ to order the return of documents
and other material which was seized during raids by Australia's
domestic spy agency on the Canberra offices of a lawyer
representing East Timor over Australian bugging claims and an
unnamed former spy-turned-whistleblower.
The Southeast Asian nation, which gained independence in
2002, says that officers of the Australian Security Intelligence
Organisation (ASIO) seized correspondence between the government
of East Timor and its legal advisers, including documents
relating to a pending arbitration under the 2002 Timor Sea
Treaty between East Timor and Australia.
East Timor is also bringing an arbitration case in The Hague
over allegations that the Australian Secret Intelligence Service
(ASIS) bugged East Timorese government offices in Dili during
the 2004 negotiations over the maritime boundary between
Australia and East Timor and the revenue split from the Greater
Sunrise gas fields.
Australia's Woodside Petroleum is contracted to
develop the Sunrise LNG plant but is stuck in the middle of the
While Woodside prefers a floating LNG plant, East Timor is
pushing for an onshore plant that will provide jobs for locals,
leaving the project at a stalemate.