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Jakarta Post

RI, OZ in maritime standoff

  • Desy Nurhayati

    The Jakarta Post

Nusa Dua, bali   /   Sat, November 9, 2013   /  11:03 am

Indonesia and Australia were involved in a maritime standoff on Friday after Jakarta declined to accept a group of asylum seekers rescued by an Australian vessel.

Agus Barnas, a spokesman for the Office of the Coordinating Political, Legal, and Security Affairs Minister, said the government'€™s policy was that Indonesia should no longer accept asylum seekers from Australia.

Out of six asylum seeker boats rescued by Australian vessels recently, Indonesia declined to receive the last three requests for transfer, which happened between September and November, Agus said.

He explained that there was no agreement with Australia on the issue. '€œForeign ministers from both countries discussed the issue in Bali [today] and there has been no progress,'€ he told The Jakarta Post over the phone on Friday.

The asylum seekers were now aboard the Australian vessel until an agreement was reached in an upcoming technical meeting between related ministries from both countries, he added.

The National Search and Rescue Agency (Basarnas) confirmed that a boat indicated to have been carrying 63 asylum seekers heading to Australia was found 57 nautical miles south of the Sunda Strait. A spokesman for the agency said an Australian vessel, the HMAS Ballarat, responded to the asylum boat'€™s distress call and rescued them.

The incident took place after Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced that Canberra planned to turn back boats to stem the flow of asylum seekers.

Indonesia opposed the plan, with Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa quoted by Australian media in July as saying that Jakarta would not accept asylum seekers being towed back from Australia.

The fresh row came amid growing tensions between the two countries over allegations that Canberra had assisted the US in its surveillance activities in Indonesia through its embassy in Jakarta and consulate in Bali.

The two countries'€™ foreign ministers met in Bali on Friday to discuss a wide range of issues, including the spying allegations.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, on the sidelines of the Bali Democracy Forum, ensured her Indonesian counterpart Marty that the Australian government would not do anything to harm relations between the two countries. However, Bishop'€™s assurances did not confirm whether the spying allegations were true or not.

'€œI did assure Minister Natalegawa that the Abbott government would not want to do anything to harm the strong and vibrant relationship,'€ she said.

Bishop refused to provide details of the discussion, stating: '€œI look at the concerns that have been raised. We take them all very seriously. But I'€™m not going into the details of the discussion because the Australian government, as a matter of principle, does not discuss intelligence matters. That has been a long standing practice of successive governments.'€

In Jakarta on the same day, Indonesian Defense Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro also had a closed-door meeting with his Australian counterpart David Johnston to discuss the espionage issue.

Johnston, however, skipped a press conference after the meeting, which was conducted at the Defense Ministry with dozens of local and international journalists waiting to grill him with questions on the spying program.

'€œI never said there would be a joint press conference,'€ Defense Ministry spokesman Brig. Gen. Sisriadi Iskandar told reporters. Purnomo said his Australian counterpart had to fly back to Perth for a meeting.

Purnomo said Johnston refused to talk about the espionage issue, saying it was now being discussed by the two countries'€™ foreign ministers in Bali.

Purnomo told reporters Indonesia would adopt a hard-line on the wiretapping issue if it was proven true. He added, however, that the allegations were difficult to prove.

Contacted separately, Hikmahanto Juwana, a professor of international law from the University of Indonesia, said governmental relations between the two countries would only worsen. He said the atmosphere of distrust sparked over issues of wiretapping and asylum seekers '€œhad strained relations indefinitely'€.

'€œOnly by addressing the issues openly can relations improve,'€ Hikmahanto said over the phone. (hrl/asw)

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