Australian Business, Political Delegation Visits E. Timor

DILI ~ The chief minister of Australia’s Northern Territory visited East Timor on Wednesday with the largest foreign delegation to visit the tiny country since it won independence from Indonesia in 2002.

A 60-strong group from Darwin, including business people and education professionals, accompanied Chief Minister Paul Henderson and Darwin city Mayor Graeme Sawyer on the trip, designed to boost ties between the rapidly growing northern Australian port and its closest offshore neighbour.

“What this shows is the strength or the friendship and the relationship between the people of Darwin and the people of East Timor,” Henderson told reporters after meeting Deputy Prime Minister Jose Luis Guterres in Dili.

“I’m very confident that the trade and investment links will grow, tourism will grow and the relationship between the governments of the Northern Territory of Australia and Timor-Leste will continue to strengthen into the future.”

Henderson said the Northern Territory had agreed to host Timorese civil servants on internships to “help build capacity” in the fledgling nation.

Guterres said the internships “will make a valuable contribution to building the capacity of our civil service to meet the demands of our growing nation.”

East Timor was occupied by the Indonesian military for 24 years until 1999, when it voted to break away in a referendum marked by violence and the arrival of Australian-led international peacekeepers.
resident Jose Ramos-Horta told the United Nations Security Council in February that the nation would be able to maintain double-digit growth in 2009 despite the global financial meltdown.

For revenue East Timor is heavily reliant on its large offshore oil and gas reserves, from which it has banked close to five billion dollars since 2005.

With global oil prices declining, the government is keen to develop other streams of income, including tourism.

So far this year projects have begun for building the nation’s first mall and a five-star resort complex, complete with 27-hole golf course.

The Australian delegation was not expected to discuss ongoing negotiations between East Timor and Australian mining giant Woodside Petroleum over how to tap the massive Sunrise natural gas field in the Timor Sea.

Negotiations have reportedly hit a snag over whether to pump the gas to an onshore processing facility in East Timor or through a 450-kilometre pipeline to Darwin.

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