Tue, 08 Mar 2005

Susilo, Badawi agree to settle rift peacefully

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi agreed on Monday to resolve the border dispute off Borneo through diplomacy. War machines on both sides have been put into action over the last few days.

The leaders reached the agreement during a 10-minute talk. Badawi call Susilo moments before the latter made a visit to the island of Sebatik, near the disputed maritime area of Ambalat, on a warship.

"I have just talked to Malaysian Prime Minister (Badawi) for 10 minutes by phone, which resulted in two conclusions. Firstly, both sides agreed to control the (mounting) tension in the field, to avoid open conflict. Secondly, the Malaysian prime minister will send his foreign minister to Jakarta immediately to hold talks on the dispute with us. The meeting will be hosted by the Indonesian foreign minister," the President said.

To help resolve the dispute, the government will also strictly enact Presidential Decree No. 44/1994 on development in the Kalimantan border areas. Susilo said the border conflict was sparked by the poor condition of infrastructure in Indonesian areas bordering Malaysia.

Upon his arrival on Tarakan island, East Kalimantan, the President and his entourage, including several ministers and Indonesian Military (TNI) Chief Gen. Endriartono Sutarto, boarded a warship bound for Sebatik to observe the situation in the field and to speak with military personnel deployed there.

Susilo toured the islands after several warships and four F-16 jet fighters were deployed to counter the presence of Malaysian patrol ships and planes in the disputed area over the last few days.

The two neighbors became embroiled in tension after Malaysia's state-owned oil company Petronas granted contracts to the Shell company to explore two deep-water blocks in the now-disputed maritime area of Ambalat last month.

Badawi confirmed that bilateral talks will take place to resolve the row. "To prevent any undesirable incidents that may create tension in the relationship between Indonesia and Malaysia, both of us agreed for the matter to be discussed at the diplomatic level," he was quoted by Malaysia's official Bernama news agency as saying.

The tension comes as Malaysia cracks down on hundreds of thousands of illegal migrants, mostly from Indonesia.

Previously, the two neighbors locked horns over sovereignty of small border islands, Sipadan and Ligitan, to the east of Sebatik. The International Court of Justice ruled in December, 2002 that the islands belonged to Malaysia.

As tension mounted, anti-Malaysia rallies continued in Jakarta, Semarang, Surabaya, Makassar and other major cities throughout the country.

Thousands of youths and students in Palu and Makassar, two major cities in Sulawesi, took to the streets, announcing their readiness to fight for Indonesia's pride over the disputed waters.

In Jakarta some 200 members of the Study Forum for Democratic Action demonstrated outside the Malaysian Embassy in the Kuningan business district, waving banners and denouncing Indonesia's closest neighbor.

An opinion story run by New Straits Times on March 5, questioned Indonesia's reaction, which it considered excessive.

The writer, Azmi Hassan, said he did not understand the objective of the provocation conducted by the Indonesian warships and jets, since it was not a secret that the TNI's war machines were not in good condition following the 13-year United States' military embargo.

He said that when the tsunami devastated Aceh recently, the Indonesian military found it difficult to help Acehnese people and had to rely on foreign militaries because of its lack of operational assets.

Diplomacy -- Page 2