Sat, 21 Feb 2004

Megawati secures tiny Nipah island

Fadli and Fabiola Desy Unidjaja, The Jakarta Post, Batam, Riau/Jakarta

Traumatized by the perceived loss of two islands from Indonesia's territory, President Megawati Soekarnoputri placed a plaque on Friday at a location on a small island bordering Singapore.

The 60-hectare Nipah island is only 10 minutes by boat from the city state, and at high tide, the island is completely submerged by water.

"As an outer island of Indonesia we need to secure it and maintain clear borders with neighboring countries," Minister of Settlement and Regional Infrastructure Soenarno, who accompanied the President, said.

"We will develop the island as a tourist resort and an agribusiness site," the minister said.

The minister added that the government had allocated some Rp 100 billion (US$11.3million) for the reclamation project.

The unclear border with the city state, and the recent decision to hand Sipadan and Ligitan islands to Malaysia, has led to fears that the island may one day be claimed by another country.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) awarded the two islands to Malaysia in late 2002, citing that Malaysia had developed the islands.

Megawati was on the last leg of a four-day trip that included Iran where she attended the D-8 Summit. She arrived in Singapore on Friday morning.

The President was also accompanied by Minister of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Rokhmin Dahuri on her visit to the island.

Aboard an Indonesian Navy ship, the presidential entourage went from Singapore straight to Nipah island, where the President also planted a casuarina tree.

The government has been discussing measures to develop its small islands that border neighboring countries for some time. Nipah has been chosen as the first island to be developed.

Should Singapore continue with its reclamation project, it would eventually cross over into Indonesia's territory, Rokhmin said.

The President arrived in Jakarta later on Friday. She was welcomed by Vice President Hamzah Haz at the Halim Perdanakusumah airport.

Megawati is slated to leave the country again on Feb.25 to attend the G-15 Summit in Venezuela, her last overseas trip before the legislative election on March 11.