Thu, 10 Jul 2003

Councillors protest Australia's arrest of fishermen

Yemris Fointuna, The Jakarta Post, Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara

Councillors here have protested the Australian government's arrest of several men from East Nusa Tenggara (NTT) province who were fishing in the waters off the disputed Sand island.

They said numerous fishermen from the East Nusa Tenggara regency of Rote-Ndao had recently been detained by Australian security forces patrolling the waters around the island.

Melkianus Adoe, a member of the provincial legislative council, said on Wednesday Australia's decision to ban Indonesians from fishing off Sand island was causing the fishermen a great deal of financial hardships.

He also said the ban was illegal because the island was not Australian territory.

Adoe, the chairman of the Golkar faction on the council, urged the central government to take this issue seriously because Sand island "traditionally" belonged to East Nusa Tenggara.

"Long before the Australians claimed the island as theirs, fishermen from NTT had been fishing there. There is plenty of evidence that shows Sand island has long been a place where fishermen from Rote-Ndou make money."

He said the proof included the old graves of Rote-Ndao residents on Sand island and other traces of activity on the disputed island.

All this activity is attributable to fishermen from NTT, not Australia, added the councillor, who represents the people of Rote-Ndao.

"Now out of sheer greed, Australia wants to occupy the island. Therefore, fishermen from Rote-Ndao are arrested and sent to jail in Australia."

The councillor said, however, that the arrests would not stop local fishermen from fishing off of Sand island.

He said the Indonesian government should take the matter of the disputed island to the international court for settlement.

Adoe said that during the Dutch colonial era, fishermen from East Nusa Tenggara had to get permission from the Dutch authorities in Kupang, which controlled the Timor islands, to go to Sand island.

"This means Sand island was part of the Dutch colonies. And when Indonesia became independent the island should have automatically been included among our country's territories."