Thu, 10 Apr 2003

Lift on sand mining ban awaits RI, S'pore border deal

Berni K. Moestafa, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Indonesia's three-month ban of sand exports from Riau to Singapore would remain in place until the two countries settled border issues, the government said on Wednesday.

"We will maintain the ban ... until our foreign minister and Singapore's foreign minister agree on our common borders," Minister of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Rokhmin Dahuri said following a meeting with President Megawati Soekarnoputri at the State Palace.

He said both parties had failed to reach agreement during a meeting in March, adding a second meeting was due in the near future.

Environmentalists have long said the sand mining caused damage to the province's ocean seabeds.

A report last year from Indonesian Forestry Studies (LPHI) said several islets in Riau had disappeared while fishermen had complained about a drop in their catches since sand mining began in 1979.

Riau's sand is sold at S$1.5 (Rp 7,500) per cubic meter to international brokers who then sell it on to Singapore construction firms for S$15 per cubic meter.

Rokhmin said earlier that in the upcoming meeting Indonesia would ask for a higher price should it agree to lift the export ban.

So far some 500 million cubic meters of Riau's sand, amounting to at least 100-square kilometers, had been sold to Singapore.

Singapore had used the sand for several strategic projects, including, among other things, Changi International Airport and the Pasir Panjang container port.

In February last year, Indonesia tightened regulations on the issuance of sand mining permits in a bid to halt illegal mining.

By September it moved further to limit sand exports amid protests by environmentalists and legislators.

But the issue grew from an environmental concern to one of potentially becoming a diplomatic row, with Indonesia imposing a full ban in January 2003.

Rokhmin said Indonesia feared Singapore's continued reclamation projects would affect its sea borders with the island state.

According to a government estimate, Singapore had grown from 580 square kilometers (sq km) to 660 sq km by 1999 due to reclamation.

Singapore is estimated to require another 1.8 billion cubic meters of sand over the next eight years for 200 sq km of additional land.

Meanwhile, the two countries have yet to secure an agreement on their continental coastlines and economic exclusive zones (EEZs).

The border in front of Indonesia's Nipah island remains unresolved. "But it's right in front of Nipah island that Singapore is doing the reclamation work," Rokhmin said.

Nipah island is one of 83 border islands serving as points of reference for Indonesia's sea borders.