Thu, 26 Jun 2003

Megawati in Hanoi to seal sea border deal

Agencies, Hanoi

President Megawati Soekarnoputri arrived on Wednesday in Hanoi to begin her three-day visit during which an agreement on the maritime boundary between the two countries will be signed.

The President landed at Noi Bai international airport at around 3.00 pm and will be officially welcomed during an official ceremony on Thursday, an official from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs told Agence France Presse.

Megawati is due to meet with President Tran Duc Luong, Prime minister Phan Van Khai and the secretary-general of the Communist Party Nong Duc Manh.

Two agreements are expected to be signed -- one will allow visa exemptions for holders of ordinary passports and the other will delineate the maritime boundary between the two countries.

The signing of the agreement on the maritime boundary in the South China Sea will mark the completion of 25-year-long negotiations that began in 1978 between the two countries to settle their sea boundaries.

Indonesian Minister of Foreign Affairs Hassan Wirayuda earlier said that the prolonged negotiations to settle the borders were due to the awareness of both sides regarding possible oil reserves in the border areas, which are estimated to contain some 2.8 million barrels of reserves.

Following the signing of the boundary agreement, Indonesia will then proceed with its plan to exploit oil and gas resources in the waters around the Natuna islands in Riau.

It was reported earlier that the two countries were also slated to work on a coffee export regulation agreement to prop up coffee prices on the international market as the two countries are among the world's largest coffee exporters.

Besides Hanoi, Megawati is scheduled to go to Ho Chi Minh city, where she will visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.

Indonesia and Vietnam established diplomatic relations in 1955.

President Megawati already visited Vietnam in 2001.

Vietnam is the last leg of Megawati's 10-days overseas trip after Bangladesh, Mongolia and Japan. The trip was mostly intended to secure economic support for the country.

Before leaving Tokyo on Wednesday, Megawati met with Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, who called on Megawati and her husband at the state guest house.

In a press conference before leaving Tokyo, Megawati said that Japan had pledged financial support for Indonesia after it graduated from the tutelage of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) later this year.

However, the President said that she had not yet decided on which option to pursue after the country ended its contract with the IMF ended.

"We have yet to reach a final decision on what kind of economic program we will adopt to maintain financial stability after leaving the IMF," the President said as quoted by Antara.

Megawati further said that the government had to ensure that whatever was decided would not disrupt the country's economic stability.