Alatas wants economic zone borders delineated

FOREIGN Minister Ali Alatas yesterday called for the boundaries of the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) between Indonesia and Malaysia in the Malacca Straits and other maritime areas to be laid down clearly to pre-empt disputes.

He also asked Malaysia to join Indonesia in avoiding actions “not conducive” to reaching a settlement at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) over the disputed Ligitan and Sipadan islands.

Speaking at the sixth meeting of the Indonesia-Malaysia Joint Commission – also attended by his Malaysian counterpart Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi – he noted bilateral ties were “very good”.

There were “bright prospects” to strengthen relations even further with new initiatives, he said.

These included, among other things, a clear delineation of EEZ boundaries which would prevent disputes between fishermen from both countries and curb illegal fishing in the Malacca Straits.

Said Mr Alatas: “I want to stress the need for a meeting of experts from the two countries to talk about and agree on the delineation of the Exclusive Economic Zone based on the the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention.”

Indonesian and Malaysian officials involved in the talks said that delineation was complex given the different geographical make-up of both countries. Indonesia is an archipelago and Malaysia a coastal state.

But there were grounds for optimism.

Said Mr Nugroho Wisnu Murti, the Director-General for Political Affairs in the Indonesian Foreign Ministry:

“For the first time, both sides are using the 1982 convention as a common reference point. As far as we are concerned this is one of the achievements of this meeting. The Malaysians have agreed to more talks to resolve this matter.”

Although the joint commission was set up in 1990 to address problems between the two nations, it did not discuss the territorial dispute over the Ligitan and Sipadan islands. Both sides have already agreed to seek arbitration at the ICJ.

But Mr Alatas referred to the issue yesterday:

“For our common sake, we should refrain from taking actions which are not conducive to the efforts for a settlement through the ICJ.”

Both countries submitted their claims to the ICJ last October. But there was still concern in Jakarta that Ligitan and Sipadan, which lie off the coast of Sabah and East Kalimantan, were being targeted for tourist development by Malaysian companies.

Malaysia ordered a stop to new projects on the islands until the ruling but has allowed a few tourism companies to continue operations.

Datuk Seri Abdullah, responding to a question, said Kuala Lumpur would “honour the status quo” of the islands.

In earlier remarks at the one-day meeting, he noted that “both countries have shown to the world that they can work to resolve this very complicated and difficult matter”.

The Joint Commission yesterday discussed a variety of issues including illegal workers and economic co-operation.

Both sides also agreed to give their respective private sectors a bigger role in trade and investment co-operation.

Datuk Abdullah noted bilateral trade grew by 37.6 per cent last year to reach US$2.6 billion (S$4 billion).

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