Jakarta keeps cool over boat 'bribe' claims
Bagus BT Saragih and Ina Parlina
The Jakarta Post
The government has refused to bow to Australia's demand to step up its border protection amid an escalating war of words following Canberra's refusal to deny that Australian authorities had paid people-smugglers to return to Indonesia.
Indonesian Military (TNI) Commander Gen. Moeldoko said on Monday that his personnel would not raise protection measures on the country's border with Australia in the wake of the incident.
'Security measures will continue. But we have limitations related to the size of the border area. Sometimes there are sectors left unmonitored, that's the problem,' Moeldoko said at the State Palace.
Rollercoaster diplomatic relations between Jakarta and Canberra are widely considered to have plumbed new depths after Indonesian officials expressed displeasure over reports suggesting that Australian officials paid six people-smugglers A$5,000 each to turn their boats back to Rote Islands in East Nusa Tenggara.
Refusing to deny or confirm the allegations, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop have instead lashed out at Jakarta, calling on Indonesia to 'enforce sovereignty over its borders'.
The issue also reportedly dominated Parliamentary sessions in Canberra on Monday.
The escalating diplomatic contretemps has also quashed signs of warmer relations following the return of Australia's envoy to Indonesia, Paul Grigson, last week. A month earlier, Grigson was recalled in protest over the execution of Australian drug convicts Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran.
Deputy Foreign Minister AM Fachir also downplayed the tension, saying that Indonesia 'will not take any position on the issue until Australia issues clarification'.
Both Moeldoko and Fachir said that this was the first time the government had heard of people-smugglers being paid to cancel their journeys and return to Indonesia.
'It's a new modus operandi,' said Moeldoko, who is due to retire next month.
Vice President Jusuf Kalla, meanwhile, accused Canberra of itself committing human trafficking by 'bribing' the people-smugglers.
'Bribery is bad enough. But this is a state committing bribery. When a state commits wrongdoing, that certainly doesn't fit with the ethics of diplomatic relations,' he said.
Kalla cautioned, however, that the claims needed to be investigated.
'If they are proven to be true, what Australia did was unethical,' he said. 'And yes, it would mean [Australia] is itself involved in human trafficking, right?'
At the same time, Kalla echoed Fachir's insistence that Indonesia would not overreact.
Bishop, according to Australian media, has refused to clarify claims that Australian officials paid off the people smugglers. She instead took the opportunity to blame Indonesia for failing to secure its borders in the first place.
'The best way for Indonesia to resolve any concerns it has about Operation Sovereign Borders is for Indonesia to enforce sovereignty over its borders,' she said, referring to Abbot's government's hard-line border protection policy, which includes a policy to intercept boats at sea.
Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi on Monday demanded an explanation from ambassador Grigson over the allegations, but the diplomat was unforthcoming.
'It should have been simple for Australia to answer my question last Saturday about the claims that [the Australian authorities] paid money, rather than just change the subject,' she said.
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