Sat, 04 Jan 2003

RI, RP to discuss maritime borders next month

Berni K. Moestafa, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Indonesia and the Philippines will meet next month to settle their maritime borders in a follow-up to last month's visit by Minister of Foreign Affairs Hassan Wirayuda to Manila, a government official said on Friday.

The foreign ministry's director for political and security agreements and regional affairs, Donnilo Anwar, said the planned meeting was to match the countries' maritime borders to avoid overlapping areas.

"The meeting won't be about disputed islands," Donnilo said during a media conference. "None of our islands are in dispute with the Philippines."

He said the negotiation would determine the maritime borders, meaning the borders marking the two countries' marine territories, continental coastlines and exclusive economic zones (EEZ).

Indonesia's outermost islands, however, serve as a point of reference to determine these borders. There are 83 such islands.

The planned meeting follows a UN ruling granting ownership of two Indonesian-claimed islands to Malaysia in December.

The international court ruled that the islands of Sipadan and Ligitan had a longer historical attachment to Malaysia.

Although the dispute over the islands with Malaysia stretched back more than three decades, the court ruling sparked criticism of Indonesia's present diplomatic performance.

Maritime experts have warned of similar risks to other islands, pointing to the lack of border treaties with neighboring countries.

Indonesia is bordered by Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Papua New Guinea, Australia, East Timor, India and Palau.

Based on the international convention on the sea, a country's sea territory is 12 miles from the outermost islands, its EEZ is 200 miles, and its continental base is between 200 to 350 miles.

So far Indonesia has signed continental coastline agreements with Malaysia, Thailand, India, Papua New Guinea and Australia.

There are only two agreements on sea territory with Malaysia and Singapore, and just one agreement on the EEZ with Australia.

Indonesian Maritime Board member Laode M. Kamaluddin has said the high mobility of Australians on Indonesia's Pasir Island might draw the interest of Australia. Pasir Island, also known as Ashmore Reef, is located near the Australian-owned Christmas Island.

Loade, also an economic adviser to Vice President Hamzah Haz, has said that in regards to the Philippines, the Indonesian-owned Miangas Island was a possible source of contention during border talks.

People on Miangas Island had been interacting more with the Filipinos rather than Indonesians, Laode said.

A senior official at the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Nicolas P. Ello, said Miangas Island or Palmas was included in the Philippines' 1891 territorial law.

Nicolas said an international arbitration panel in 1928, however, ruled that the island belonged to the Dutch, who occupied Indonesia for more than 300 years from the early 1600s.

However, Filipino congressmen have lately begun to question the panel's decision, the ministry's legal expert Etty R. Agoes said, quoting a Manila diplomat on maritime affairs.

"Indonesia's diplomacy on this issue needs to be intensified," said Etty in her paper on a seminar about Indonesia's maritime borders last month.