Jakarta, KL agree to resolve row over oil-rich area

Ministers reach agreement after late-night talks.

INDONESIA and Malaysia yesterday agreed to resolve by ‘peaceful means’ a dispute over an oil-rich area that threatened to sour bilateral ties.

The resolution followed a late night meeting of the foreign ministers of both countries.

‘Both governments agreed to take the necessary steps to ease the growing tension during the last several days,’ according to a joint statement.

It noted that technical teams from the two countries would ‘urgently meet’ in Jakarta on March 22 and 23, and thereafter on a regular basis, to find a solution to the problem.

The outcome of the meeting appeared to have defused for now a brewing political storm between the two countries.

Earlier yesterday, Indonesia withdrew five warships from the disputed area. But Indonesia’s navy spokesman Abdul Malik Yusuf said the vessels would be withdrawn only to the fringes of the disputed region, which is near the land border between Indonesia’s East Kalimantan province and Malaysia’s Sabah state.

‘We are pulling back the ships … to let the Malaysians know we have no wish to escalate tensions,’ he told The Straits Times. ‘But they will remain near the region so they can be recalled if there are problems.’

Over the weekend, the Indonesian military dispatched seven warships and four F-16 fighter planes to the region in a show of force.

First Admiral Abdul Malik said that the F-16s would remain at East Kalimantan’s Balikpapan airbase, while the remaining two warships would continue their patrols in and near the two deep-water blocks.

‘We want to keep watch. We will not give up our territorial sovereignty.’

The conflicting signals from the Indonesian military came as both the Indonesian and Malaysian foreign ministers met late last night here on the sidelines of the Asean-European Union meeting to try to defuse the escalating tensions.

Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda, speaking to reporters ahead of talks with his Malaysian counterpart Syed Hamid Albar, said Jakarta wanted a diplomatic solution to the row. But he stressed that no concessions would be made.

‘We’re not offering anything to Malaysia because we believe our claim on the territory is based on strong foundations,’ he said. ‘International law requires a border dispute to be solved through negotiation, not by unilateral, aggressive claims.’

His comments come a day after Datuk Seri Syed Hamid made clear Kuala Lumpur would not compromise on its territorial sovereignty, even as it sought to avoid a confrontation with Indonesia.

Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak also sought to defuse tensions as he called for calm. ‘I hope the Indonesian people will be calm because demonstrations will not resolve this problem,’ the Bernama news agency quoted him as saying on a visit to London.

He also said that Kuala Lumpur might refer the dispute to the International Court of Justice if negotiations between the two sides failed.

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