RI demands Oz halt boat people operation
Bagus BT Saragih
The Jakarta Post
The Indonesian government has reiterated its demand for Australia to stop its border operation crackdown on boat people, following Canberra's revelation that there were at least six instances of Australian ships entering Indonesian territory during the operation.
However, the Indonesian authorities claimed there were five breaches instead of the six suggested by the Australian authorities' review released on Jan. 19, leaving the question of whether there were further infringements after Australia lodged its formal apology on Jan. 17.
'As I have said on some occasions in the past, territorial infringement for whatever reason is a very serious problem for the two countries' relationship.
'Indonesia is urging Australia to stop this operation that led to territorial breaches,' Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Ministry spokesman Vice Marshall Agus Ruchyan Barnas told The Jakarta Post on Thursday, referring to Operation Sovereign Borders (OSB).
Agus confirmed that Australia, via its embassy in Jakarta, had sent a formal diplomatic note to the Foreign Ministry on Jan. 17, apologizing for the territorial breaches made by Australian ships.
In the diplomatic note, Agus said, Australia had admitted to having 'inadvertently' entered Indonesian waters in five out of six 'boat turn-back operations' carried out by Australia, namely on Dec. 12, 22 and 25 last year, as well as on Jan. 1, 6 and 7 this year.
But Agus said he did not know which five out of the six had resulted in border trespassing.
The joint review, conducted by the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service and the Australian Defense Force, found that Australian vessels 'inadvertently entered Indonesian waters on six occasions' in connection with OSB from Dec. 1 to Jan. 20.
Agus refused to comment on the differing data in the diplomatic note and the internal Australian review.
He also declined to speculate on whether there could have been more breaches in the period between Jan. 17, when Australia formally lodged its apology, and Jan. 20, which was the end of the joint review's time frame.
'Australia's clear policy is to not breach Indonesia's territorial waters. We have given a clear commitment that we will be ensuring strict compliance with this policy, to ensure there will be no recurrence of these events, which we deeply regret,' Australian Immigration and Border Protection Minister Scott Morrison said on Jan. 18.
Also on Thursday, Australian Defense Force chief Gen. David Hurley admitted that Jakarta-Canberra military relations were at a 'go-slow' point after the navy had repeatedly breached Indonesian waters.
He said he had briefed his Indonesian counterparts on the findings of the review. 'Like us, they're disappointed that it occurred, but they understand how it may have occurred,' he told ABC radio as quoted by AFP.
'At the end of the meeting, particularly between the chiefs of navies, there was an agreement that this was an accurate summary of what had occurred and they're accepting of that explanation.'
OSB aims to repel boats carrying undocumented migrants largely coming from Indonesia ' a hard-line policy that has stoked tensions between the two countries.
Canberra claimed no such boats had arrived for several weeks thanks to the operation, but Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa expressed regret over 'the consequences for the [Indonesia-Australia] bilateral relationship'.
Hurley conceded that the incident had weighed on relations already strained by a spying row late last year and a second surveillance controversy this week ' both of which arose from leaks by US intelligence fugitive Edward Snowden.
Indonesia suspended cooperation in a number of areas including people smuggling and military exercises over last year's revelations that Australia had attempted to tap the phones of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, his wife and several top officials in 2009.
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said Australia and Indonesia were 'facing some challenges [...] and the Australian government will do what it can to resolve them'.
Bishop said progress had been made on a code of conduct between the two countries, stipulated by Indonesia as a condition of restoring relations, with Australia waiting to receive feedback on a first draft.
'We had a very long conversation only last week and it was a very fruitful, very productive discussion,' she said after talking to Marty. 'Our relationship across a whole range of areas, some 60 or more areas of engagement, continues to flourish.'
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