The Jakarta Post
Government officials have provided conflicting statements regarding Indonesia's stance on Australia's 'turn back the boats' policy after the Indonesian Military (TNI) chief said that such a policy was understandable on the same day the foreign minister reiterated Jakarta's rejection of Canberra's hard-line measure.
Indonesia is again at loggerheads with Australia over the boat-people issue following reports that the Australian navy had pushed back at least two boatloads of undocumented migrants attempting to enter the country to seek political asylum since December, with the latest incident occurring Monday.
Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said on Tuesday that he could not comment on the latest incident as the matter was being handled by the Office of the Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Minister. He added, however, that Indonesia opposed Tony Abbott's so-called Operation Sovereign Borders.
'On the push-back policy itself, let me put on record our rejection of the policy. Pushing back the boats is not a solution,' Marty said.
TNI Commander Gen. Moeldoko said the Australian government's decision to turn back a boat carrying migrants attempting to reach its shores was 'justifiable' as he had made an agreement with the Australian Defence Force.
Moeldoko said that both countries had agreed to the action.
'Following [our] halted military cooperation with Australia, the country's defense force chief called me to discuss several issues, including how to deal with the boat people. He told me that Indonesia should understand if Australia drove back undocumented migrants attempting to enter the country using Indonesian boats or if any Indonesians were found aboard,' he said.
'I have agreed. Therefore, we don't need to feel offended.'
Moeldoko's statement was immediately rebuked by the Office of the Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister, which has been assigned to deal with the boat-people issue. Minister's office spokesperson, Agus Barnas, said that there was no such agreement.
'As far as I know, we have no such agreement. Also, our office hasn't been notified about any deals our military made [with Australia's].'
The Rote Ndao Police said that they found 45 undocumented migrants from Africa and the Middle East aboard a boat floating adrift in Rote Ndao waters on Monday after the Australian navy sent them back to Indonesian waters. Nine of the migrants are women while the other 36 are men.
The Rote Ndao Police's crime investigations unit head, First. Insp. Burhanuddin said Tuesday that the immigrants departed from Kendari, the capital of Southeast Sulawesi, using a boat rented from an Indonesian fisherman.
'As the Australian Navy drove them back to Indonesian waters, the wooden boat, which was rented from a local fisherman, finally sailed to eastern Indonesia. But the boat's engine broke down on the way and left it stranded in Rote Island,' Burhanuddin said.
Separately, the East Nusa Tenggara Police spokesman Adj. Sr. Comr. Okto Riwu said that two of the crews that helped the undocumented migrants enter Australia were Indonesians, who had escaped after the local police transferred them as well as other crew and passengers to Kupang, the capital of East Nusa Tenggara.
National Police chief Gen. Sutarman echoed Marty, saying the Australian Navy should not have sent the migrants back to Indonesian waters. 'If boat people have entered the country's territory, they must be arrested for violating the country's territorial integrity, and not be pushed back to us,' he said.
In addition to the recent incident, the Rote Ndao Police in December arrested another 47 migrants from the Middle East stranded in Rote Ndao waters who were also attempting to enter Australia. The Australian navy watched as the boat drifted for three days until they ran out of fuel and logistics.
Golkar Party legislator Tantowi Yahya said that the TNI chief should not welcome Australia's move. 'The boat-people issue is not our business because they are not Indonesians and also because they illegally attempted to enter Australia. Where is the involvement of Indonesia [in the matter]? Australia should not arbitrarily act the way it did especially following the suspended cooperation between the countries,' he said.
Bagus BT Saragih and Yuliasri Perdani contributed to the story.