Tue, 08 Mar 2005

Govt urged to seek diplomatic solution over Ambalat

Tony Hotland, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The government has been urged to seek a diplomatic solution to its territorial dispute with Malaysia, while maintaining its stance that the country's possession of the disputed oil and gas- rich area is non-negotiable.

International relations expert Dewi Fortuna Anwar said the issue had to be resolved through diplomatic channels to prevent armed conflict, but underlined that the diplomacy should be backed up by military reinforcement and possession efforts.

"Diplomatic efforts are the priority, but the government mustn't be too focused on papers and documents. Military reinforcement is a good sign that Indonesia doesn't hesitate to take stern measures and it's very important to let them know that they can't just walk all over us," she said on Monday.

Dewi said the government could even use the current anti- Malaysia sentiment here as a tool to strengthen its bargaining power during talks with Malaysia.

"Another measure is to develop the area in a bid to provide stronger proof of our possession of it. Continuing the stalled construction of a lighthouse there is a good way -- of course with the Indonesian Military guarding all sides," she said.

The calls for prioritizing a diplomatic solution came as the two countries dispatched their own warships and war planes to the area, and amid reports at home quoting some politicians as suggesting the government opt for armed conflict.

Claims by Indonesia and Malaysia to the Ambalat area in the Sulawesi sea, near the land border between East Kalimantan province and Malaysia's Sabah state recently emerged after the Malaysian government awarded in February an oil production sharing contract to Royal Dutch Shell.

Maritime law expert Hasjim Djalil concurred with Dewi, adding that the government had to be more active in asserting Indonesia's claim to the territory.

"Indonesia has every right to the area and the government must strive to protect those rights during the talks," he said.

Hasjim said a few feasible options, should bilateral talks end in a deadlock, included the international court, mediators, or the joint development of the area by the two countries.

House of Representatives Commission I for defense and security affairs said it supported diplomatic efforts with Malaysia, but reminded the government to keep its sovereignty intact and that stern measures against violations by any country should be carried out unflinchingly.

"We endorse efforts to protect the area by dispatching jets and warships to show our interest in law enforcement. And if (Malaysia) refuses to abide by it, we'll even consider military action," commission chairman Theo L. Sambuaga said.

The commission also urged the government to recall its ambassador to Malaysia for an indefinite period of time as an expression of disappointment with Malaysia's unilateral claim and intrusions of Indonesian airspace in the area.

Malaysia claims the area is part of its territory based on a 1979 map, which Indonesia has said is not acknowledged by most other Southeast Asian countries.