Warships sent to disputed area

Show of force by Jakarta over oil-rich region claimed by KL.

INDONESIA has dispatched three warships to a disputed oil-rich area in the Sulawesi sea, also claimed by Malaysia, in a clear sign of strong nationalist stirrings within the armed forces.

The show of force is seen as a robust response after Jakarta’s embarrassing loss in a territorial dispute over two small islands off Borneo – Sipadan and Ligitan – to Kuala Lumpur in December 2002 after a long, drawn-out battle at the International Court of Justice.

A three-star army general told The Straits Times: ‘We lost East Timor in 1999. That was a disaster. We lost Sipadan and Ligitan in 2002. We will not allow Malaysia or any other country to steal another inch of our territory again.’

The dispute follows a decision last month by the Malaysian state oil firm Petronas to grant energy giant Shell a concession in an area off the coast of Malaysia’s Sabah state and Indonesia’s East Kalimantan province, close to Sipadan and Ligitan.

Jakarta, which last week lodged a formal protest with KL over the matter, says the area is part of its territorial waters and some of the concession granted by Malaysia overlaps with one granted by the Indonesian government to Italy’s ENI and the United States company Unocal in the 1960s.

It noted that Malaysia had based its claim on a ‘self-made’ map drawn in 1979 which is not recognised by any Asean country.

Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had on Monday rejected the Indonesian claims, saying the two concession blocks were within Malaysian territory.

Fundamental differences over border demarcation in the area have led to competing territorial claims.

Over the last week Indonesia has deployed two Nomad maritime aircraft for reconnaissance over the region, after reports of possible incursions by Malaysian planes.

Indonesian navy spokesman Abdul Malik Yusuf told The Straits Times that three warships had since been dispatched to the region and a fourth would be on its way today.

He explained: ‘It is normal for us to conduct routine patrols but we have decided to increase our presence there because of the recent problems.

‘We want to enforce our sovereignty and jurisdiction over the area so that outsiders cannot encroach on our territory.’

After signs appeared of a warming relationship between the neighbours following Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s visit to KL last month, the substantial naval deployment now appears to present a backdrop of cooling ties at a broader level.

The border dispute is just one of several problems afflicting the relationship and closely follows the most conspicuous in recent weeks, which is Malaysia’s effort to round up and repatriate illegal immigrants – most of them Indonesian.

A seasoned diplomat said: ‘Given the current strain in the relationship, there is every possibility that it could have been a tit for tat. Nationalist undercurrents are shaping Indonesia’s response to its problems with Malaysia.’

Indonesian Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources director-general of oil and gas Iin Arifin Takhyan was quoted by the Jakarta Post as saying on Tuesday that Indonesia is open to a negotiated settlement, but in the meantime ‘the show must go on’.

Also hopeful of a negotiated settlement was Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak.

‘Our relationship is good. We can resolve whatever problem through negotiation,’ he said on Tuesday.

NOT ANOTHER INCH

‘We lost East Timor in 1999. That was a disaster. We lost Sipadan and Ligitan in 2002. We will not allow Malaysia or any other country to steal another inch of our territory again.’
– AN INDONESIAN THREE-STAR ARMY GENERAL

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