Former East Timor president Jose Ramos-Horta on Wednesday warned Australia not to underestimate the damage caused by spying allegations, which he said had angered many of his countrymen.
Australia is accused of using an aid program as cover to place listening devices in the East Timor prime minister’s office and rooms used for cabinet discussions during negotiations on the Timor Sea gas treaty in 2004.
East Timor is now bringing an arbitration case at The Hague against Canberra, alleging it spied to gain commercial advantage and seeking to have the Aus$40 billion ($36 billion) 50-50 profit sharing deal it signed torn up.
Ramos-Horta, now a special envoy for the UN secretary general, said he had no idea at the time that Australia would violate their offices.
“I don’t know what Australia can do to restore confidence among East Timorese people or leaders. I hope Australia does not underestimate the anger, the disappointment that its spying, its espionage towards Indonesia and Timor Leste is causing,” he said.
Australia is also accused of tapping the phones of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, his wife and inner circle in 2009.
Ramos-Horta said it would be understandable if Canberra had been spying on the likes of North Korea but not neighbors and allies.
“When you try to listen in to phone conversations of the president of Indonesia, a friendly country, or his own wife, or when you spy on a friendly neighbour like Timor-Leste which Australia helped to free in 1999 and which Australia claimed to be a friend, well it really undermines 10 years of our relationship,” he said.
As a UN envoy, Ramos–Horta played a key role in lobbying for Australia to win a seat on the UN Security Council last year, but he said that had he and the world body known about the spying allegations, it would have been a different story.
“Had we known that Australia was spying on us and spying on our friends… well if (that) news had transpired before the vote for the Security Council a year ago, I doubt Australia would have secured the seat,” he said.
Australia was elected to a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council for a two-year role that began in January.
Ramos-Horta said Canberra must be more sensitive and transparent and admit it was at fault.
“Australia likes to lecture Timor-Leste and other countries about transparency and integrity in public life. Well, this has not been a very good example of transparency and honesty,” he said.