15 October 2011

Border Claims Are ‘Depressing’ for Indonesian Military

Claims of a Malaysian land grab in West Kalimantan are not only complicating ties between the two countries, but are also hurting the morale of soldiers in the area, the military chief said on Friday. 

“The use of the term encroachment is causing depression among the soldiers, because it makes it seem that they are not doing their job,” Adm. Agus Suhartono, chief of staff of the Indonesian Military (TNI), said during a hearing at the House of Representatives. 

This, Agus said, is unfair because no foreign encroachment has taken place in West Kalimantan, even in Camar Bulan and Tanjung Datu, which have figured prominently in media coverage of the claims. “The regional commander has checked the border markers there and none have been moved, he said. “We are affirming that there has been no encroachment.” 

Lawmakers were the ones who stirred up the controversy with a visit to the border area in West Kalimantan. On their return to Jakarta, they claimed that 1,400 hectares in Camar Bulan in Sambas district and a further eight hectares in Tanjung Datu were at risk of being grabbed up by Malaysia because of missing and moved border markers. 

They said they had also received reports of Malaysian border patrol officers evicting Indonesian citizens in the areas. The report was denied by the Foreign Ministry and Agus said on Friday that the Indonesian and Malaysian militaries were jointly patrolling the border. 

He also said the TNI was planning to use global positioning system technology to mark the border, so any attempt to move markers would be instantly known. Agus also proposed that the government and the House begin to consider ways to involve the private sector in developing border areas. 

He cited the case of palm oil plantations that have opened isolated border areas to development. Companies that invest in border areas, Agus added, should be obliged to build roads along the border. “These roads would be important as the military could use them to patrol the border while the private businessmen could use them for their business operations,” he said. 

Agus also reiterated the TNI’s preference for talks in resolving border disputes, including ones with Malaysia in Kalimantan. “The TNI basically encourages discussion of any problems that may arise between Indonesia and Malaysia,” the commander said. 

Meanwhile, Mahfudz Siddiq, chairman of House Commission I, which deals with security, political and foreign affairs, said an independent team involving the various concerned government institutions should be formed to deal with border issues.

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