Wed, 23 Feb 2000

Indonesia demands explanation for covert Australian flights

JAKARTA (JP): The Indonesian Foreign Ministry has sent a diplomatic note demanding Canberra explain the existence of illicit flights made by Australian airplanes entering Indonesian airspace over the Maluku Islands.

The note, dated Nov. 15, was delivered to the Australian Embassy last week. It asserted that the two incidents, which occurred in November was a clear violation of international law and undermined Indonesia's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Without suggesting that the flights may have been spying on events in the restive area, the Indonesian government demanded a clear explanation from Canberra on the activities and purpose of the unauthorized Australian flights over Indonesian airspace.

According to Antara the first flight was detected above North and South Maluku on Nov. 19 at around 5:45 p.m. by the Patimura Air Base.

The Australian plane was detected flying over the area every few hours until the morning of Nov. 20 at an altitude of about 10,000 feet.

Another incident occurred later on the afternoon of Nov. 20 at 1:45 p.m. when an Australian Air Force C-130 with a call sign of "Ausy-1020" flew at an altitude of 5,000 feet over North Maluku.

The plane did not inform its purpose or flight path and was not given flight clearance by Indonesian authorities.

The two incidents occurred just weeks after Australian troops began arriving in East Timor as part of a multinational force.

Maluku has been the scene of violent sectarian clashes for over a year, claiming the lives of 2,000 people.

This is not the first time that Australia has been accused of sneaking into Indonesian airspace.

Military and Defense officials have previously charged that Indonesia has seen increased violations of its airspace by foreign forces, who are not Indonesia's southeast Asian neighbors.

In November, Minister of Defense Juwono Sudarsono told legislators that Indonesian radar had detected air space violations in North Sumatra and "it was not conducted by Singapore military aircraft."

"As you know the North Sumatra area is within range of planes from Butterworth Air Force base in Malaysia, which is used by the British and Australian air forces," Juwono said.

"It is also within range of planes from mobile air bases in the Indian Ocean and Orion type maritime patrol planes from Australia," he said.

The accusations come at a time when diplomatic ties between Jakarta and Canberra are at a prickly stage due to the East Timor debacle. (mds)