Mon, 07 Mar 2005

F-16s deployed ahead of Susilo's visit to Sebatik

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Tensions continued to heighten between Indonesia and Malaysia on Sunday as Jakarta dispatched four F-16 fighter jets to the disputed Ambalat offshore area in the Sulawesi Sea to join patrols by seven Indonesian warships.

The deployment came ahead of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's visit to Sebatik island near the disputed area on Monday.

Air Force Chief of Staff Rear Marshall Djoko Suyanto said the fighter jets were sent to strengthen the patrol in the disputed area.

"It isn't aimed at provocation," he said after a Cabinet meeting chaired by Susilo on Sunday. Also present were Indonesian Military (TNI) chief Gen. Endriartono Sutarto, Army Chief of Staff Let. Gen. Djoko Santoso, and Minister of Foreign Affairs Hassan Wirayuda.

The F-16s reportedly flew from the Madiun airbase in East Java and arrived in East Kalimantan on Sunday afternoon. It was not clear for how long the jet fighters would be patrolling Ambalat, located in the Sulawesi Sea off the east coast of Kalimantan, and thought to have huge oil and gas reserves.

Susilo is scheduled to fly to East Kalimantan on Monday morning to visit Sebatik island and the towns of Tarakan and Nunukan.

Sebatik is situated off the land border between East Kalimantan and Malaysia's state of Sabah. The island, just west of Ambalat, is split between the two countries.

The visit to Sebatik is aimed at seeking direct reports on the situation in the border areas, presidential spokesman Andi Mallarangeng said.

The Navy said President Susilo will board the KRI KS Tubun warship from Tarakan to Sebatik.

Malaysia claims Ambalat is part of its territory, while Indonesia said the claim is based on a map from 1979 that is not recognized by the Indonesian government or most other Southeast Asian countries.

Earlier on Saturday, Navy Eastern Fleet Fighter Division Chief of Staff, Col. Marsetio, said his office has prepared seven warships to guard Ambalat.

"KRI Singa, KRI Tongkol and KRI KS Tubun warships will be here (Tarakan) in a moment, joining KRI Nuku, KRI Wiratno and KRI Rencong warships," he said as quoted by Antara.

Another warship will also be sent, but will not arrive in Tarakan until Monday morning, Marsetio added.

The deployment of warships, he said, was in line with the national policy of protecting the country's sovereignty on the east coast of Sebatik island.

Several hours earlier, KRI Rencong faced off with the Malaysian warship KD Kerambit in Karang Unarang waters, where a lighthouse is to be built by the Ministry of Communications and Information to help strengthen Indonesia's position.

Marsetio said there were radio contacts between the two warships, with Malaysia claiming that KRI Rencong had entered Malaysian territory.

Argument ensured, with KRI Rencong telling Malaysian authorities otherwise.

TNI chief Gen. Endriartono Sutarto said Indonesian and Malaysian warships had met several times in passing in the disputed area. However, no military incident was reported.

He gave an assurance that tensions between the countries would not worsen as he and his Malaysian counterpart had agreed to settle the matter through diplomatic channels.

Meanwhile, former People's Consultative Assembly speaker Amien Rais urged the government to make all efforts to retain Ambalat, otherwise Indonesia's loss of Ligitan and Sipadan will be repeated.

"If the government is softhearted and weak, they (Malaysia) will really put pressure on us. So, the ball is really in the government's court," Amien said in Makassar, South Sulawesi.

A number of Makasar residents have meanwhile set up a "Front for Crushing Malaysia" center aimed at defending the country should tensions continue.

This is reminiscent of Indonesia's confrontation with Malaysia in the mid 1960s, when Indonesia claiming territory ceded to the Malaysian federation by the British (now Sabah and Sarawak) in north Borneo.