Mon, Jul 26, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Australia might suspend oil talks with East Timor

AFP , Sydney

Australia's foreign minister threatened yesterday to suspend talks with East Timor on disputed multibillion-dollar Timor Sea gas and oil fields, saying the opposition Labor Party had politicized the issue.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer accused Labor leader Mark Latham of acting irresponsibly by saying last week that he would start fresh negotiations with East Timor if elected in national elections expected later this year.

The long-running negotiations have strained Australia's relations with East Timor, which wants a greater share of oil revenues, and Downer said Latham had "lurched into" the issue at a delicate stage to score political points.

"There won't be any point in going ahead with the negotiations if Labor is going to restart the negotiations after the election," Downer told Channel Nine.

Australia's conservative government has been accused of bullying one of the world's poorest countries by claiming ownership an of oil-rich continental shelf two-thirds of the way across the Timor Sea.

East Timor wants the border drawn midway between the two nations, a change East Timor Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri said would be worth three times the oil revenues under current arrangements.

Latham said last week that Labor would start negotiations from scratch because "bad blood" had dominated the existing talks.

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