Thu, 10 Mar 2005

RI, Malaysia take steps to mend rift

Adianto P. Simamora, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

In an effort to prevent xenophobia fueled by the Ambalat dispute from spreading in the two countries, Indonesia and Malaysia met in Jakarta on Wednesday and agreed to solve the row peacefully on the negotiating table, rather than the battlefield.

After a meeting between Indonesia's Minister of Foreign Affairs Hassan Wirayuda and his Malaysian counterpart, Syed Hamid Albar, the two countries issued a joint press statement late on Wednesday.

"Indonesia and Malaysia agreed to use peaceful means to solve the maritime border issues, particularly the Ambalat issue" the statement said.

The two countries agreed to use the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea in solving the problem.

Syed Hamid arrived in Jakarta on Wednesday to attend the 15th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)-European Union (EU) Ministerial Meeting.

After exchanging views on the Ambalat dispute, the two ministers agreed to take the necessary steps to ease the growing tension that had developed during the last several days.

The statement announced that the two countries' technical teams would meet in Indonesia from March 22 to March 23 to discuss the Ambalat dispute and would continue to meet on a regular basis.

Prior to the meeting, Hassan said that the territorial dispute between Indonesia and Malaysia must be settled through peaceful negotiations and urged Kuala Lumpur to avoid "unilateral and aggressive" claims.

He said that Indonesia had requested for some time a meeting with Malaysia to resolve the territorial dispute between the two countries, including in the Malacca Strait, Natuna Waters and the Sulawesi Sea.

"We urge Malaysia (to resolve it) because international law requires a border dispute to be solved through negotiations and not through unilateral, aggressive claims," Hassan said.

For its part, Malaysia said on Wednesday it may refer the dispute to the Hague-based International Court of Justice (ICJ) if negotiations between the two sides fail.

"I suppose if, in the final analysis, we come to the point that our positions are far apart for some reason, the next recourse will be the ICJ," Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak told Reuters on Wednesday after delivering a speech to business leaders in London.

However, Najib said he hoped it would not come to that.

"For anything to be referred to the International Court of Justice, both the countries must agree to it. The first move would be to conduct negotiations ... to see whether there is a meeting of minds."

Previously, Indonesia said the ICJ was not something it was considering in the Ambalat dispute.

In December 2002, Indonesia lost Ligitan and Sipadan islands to Malaysia in a legal battle at the ICJ.

Speaking after bilateral talks with the Italian Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Margherita Boniver, Hassan said that diplomatic channels were the best way to settle the border dispute.

Syed Hamid said on Tuesday that Malaysia would also seek to avoid a clash with Indonesia but stressed it would not compromise on its territorial interest and sovereignty. He also accused the Indonesian media of trying to blow the issue out of proportion.

Hassan indicated that the Indonesian government would not bargain with Malaysia over the disputed area.

"We are not offering anything to Malaysia because we are convinced that our claims to the land, sea, continental shelves and exclusive economic zones have a strong basis," he said.

"But we need to seek clarification from Malaysia about reasons for their claims (in the Ambalat area)," he said.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who visited Sebatik, an island split between Malaysia and Indonesia, which is home to military garrisons belonging to both countries, has said that the two countries would not put their good ties at stake just because of a border issue.