Wed, 25 Sep 2002

RI concerned over Aussie rocket project

Fabiola Desy Unidjaja, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Indonesia expressed concern on Tuesday over Australia's plan to develop a rocket launchpad on Christmas island in the Indian Ocean.

In a security dialog between the two governments on Tuesday, Indonesian officials asked their counterparts to give an explanation of the plan.

"We understand their intention to build a launchpad, but we need to be assured that it is as safe as the Australian government claims it is," said Makarim Wibisono, the director general for Asia, Pacific and Africa from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Due to the island's proximity, any small mistake during a rocket launch could spell catastrophe for Indonesia, Makarim said.

The island is located 360 kilometers south of Jakarta and can be reached by speedboat.

Canberra has said it would continue with the planned project, which it has developed in cooperation with the Russian government.

Makarim said that Indonesia would like to hear the details of the plan to build the facility on the resort island, along with the entire safety study.

"If possible, we could develop a cooperation on how to prevent any possible problems, for instance, rocket failure," he said.

He said the talks were needed to prevent misunderstandings over Australia's intention to build the defense facility so close to Indonesia.

Data from the Indonesian Aeronautics Agency states that a large rocket launchpad has a failure rate of between 10 percent and 20 percent.

During the meeting, the two countries also discussed various security issues, such as terrorism and illegal trafficking of people and goods.

Makarim said Jakarta also asked Canberra to do something regarding the activities of many Australian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that supported the independence of Papua.

"We ask Australia to promote its government's official stance, which supports Indonesia's territorial integrity," Makarim said.

He said there had been reports of activities, carried out by Australian NGOs, in support of an independence campaign in Indonesia's easternmost province.