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Claim territory or risk
losing it: Expert

Indonesia has to unilaterally lay claim to its territory bordering Malaysia following the arrest of three Indonesian civil servants and seven Malaysian fishermen over a border dispute, says an expert.

“The Indonesian government needs to claim Indonesia’s sovereign territory unilaterally, based on UNCLOS [the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea] and uphold law there,” University of Indonesia defense expert Andi Widjajanto said Tuesday.

“It is a common practice, done by many countries, just like what China has done in the South China Sea.”

Indonesian Maritime Affairs  and Fisheries Ministry inspectors detained seven Malaysian fishermen in Tanjung Berakit waters, Riau Island province, last Friday for allegedly trespassing and illegally fishing in Indonesian waters.

But a Malaysian Marine Police patrol boat intercepted them and requested the fishermen be released.

Unheeded by the Indonesian officers, the Malaysian patrol fired two warning shots. All of those arrested during the incident were eventually released Tuesday.

Andi said he was aware that Indonesia would inevitably have border disputes with Malaysia but said Indonesia should have a better bargaining position than Malaysia.

“Just look at our Foreign Minister [Marty Natalagewa], who cannot seem to decide on whether the incident took place in Indonesian or Malaysian territory,” Andi said.

He said Marty should have taken a firm stance over the incident when speaking to the public, and stated that the three arrested Indonesians had been doing their job.

“If this case is brought before the International Court of Justice, Indonesia will be perceived as inconsistent in defending its territory. he said.  

Foreign Ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah said the ministry was still waiting for information on the exact coordinates of the arrests made by the Indonesian Navy.

Navy spokesman Ft. Adm. Heri Setianegara did not respond to The Jakarta Post’s inquiries.

Faizasyah said no clear boundaries had been agreed on in the area where the incident took place, because Indonesia was still waiting for Malaysia to finish its negotiations with Singapore over Pedra Branca Island, following a 2008 International Court of Justice decision awarding the island to Singapore.

Member of legal affairs commission at the House of Representatives, Golkar legislator Tantowi Yahya, said the Indonesian and Malaysian governments should meet and negotiate disputed territories, disregarding Malaysia’s repeated delays over the country’s unfinished business with Singapore.

He said House members would soon summon Foreign Ministry officials and the Indonesian inspectors who were arrested to establish beyond doubt whether Malaysia had breached Indonesia’s territory.

Malaysian Ambassador to Indonesia Syed Munshe Afzaruddin Syed Hassan described the incident as “a minor case” while bilateral relations were “perfect”.

Mohammad Yassin Kosasih from the Riau Islands police said a crime scene examination proved the arrest of the Malaysian fishermen took place in Indonesian waters.

But the Indonesian inspectors had no evidence that the men had been engaged in illegal fishing, he said. “Therefore, the government decided to release the men.”

The arrest of the Indonesian inspectors and the shots fired by the Malaysian patrol has sparked public anger nationwide, including from former president Megawati Soekarnoputri, who blamed defense-spending cuts by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono for the incident. (gzl)

— Fadli contributed
to this story from Batam

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