Thursday, 13 October 2011

Indonesian ministers summoned over border dispute with Malaysia

The Indonesian House of Representatives has said that it will summon key officials from the government of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to explain what progress is being made on a border dispute with Malaysia, amid angry protests.

The two states are at loggerheads over both their land and sea borders. Indonesian lawmakers have claimed that the Malaysian government has stepped up naval patrols on the border and sought to effectively annex nearly a kilometre of sea.

Their main area of dispute at sea is the Ambalat zone of the continental shelf between them, which is believed to contain huge undersea energy resources. Malaysia claimed the area in a map which it issued in 1979, but Indonesia rejects the claim. The dispute has not stopped each side from granting oil and gas contracts in the area, but tensions periodically spike, often including confrontations between the two navies.

The land border is the main subject of contention at present. In early October, Indonesia accused Malaysia of damaging several border markers in the West Kalimantan region, leaving parts of the border unclear.

Although the two sides have agreed to send a joint surveying team to the area and settle it as a technical issue, some Indonesian media outlets and officials responded by whipping up nationalist sentiments and declaring that over 1000 hectares of land had been taken by Malaysia.

On 13th October an angry crowd, organised by a group calling itself Forum Betawi Rempug gathered outside the Malaysian embassy in Jakarta and hurled missiles at the building, damaging a security post and forcing police to use tear gas.

The strong feelings on both sides will give added impetus to a plan by the two governments to set up Local Border Committees at each boundary crossing point. The idea was proposed by the head of the Malaysian customs department Datuk Seri Mohamed Khalid Yusuf at a bilateral cooperation meeting between the two sides.

Notwithstanding the willingness of some politicians to score political points from the dispute, the issue looks to be settled at a technical level; neither side has an interest in aggravating tensions.

Sources: Jakarta Post, Borneo Post

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