Bid to Ease Tensions after Maritime Spat

KOTA KINABALU

Malaysia and Indonesia have moved to calm a maritime border dispute that has sparked angry protests, with their foreign ministers agreeing to take action to prevent a repeat incident.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman met his Indonesian counterpart Marty Natalegawa in eastern Sabah state on Monday after last month’s flare-up triggered by the detention of Malaysian fishermen and Indonesian officials in disputed waters.

In the ensuing protest, human faeces were flung at the Malaysian embassy in Jakarta, forcing security at the Malaysian mission to be stepped up.

“Both nations agreed that preventive measures will be required to prevent a recurrence of the August 13 incident, and appropriate action will be taken to resolve various maritime border issues,” the two ministers said.

“Two technical meetings will be held before the end of the year,” they said in a joint statement after the meeting held in Sabah in the Malaysian part of Borneo, a vast island shared with Indonesia.

In an initial step, fishing vessels from both countries will be required to install a tracking system which will enable enforcement authorities to monitor their positions and issue warning notices in the case of encroachment.

Seven Malaysian fishermen were detained in disputed waters off southern Malaysia last month, by Indonesian authorities who accused them of straying into their territory.

Three of the Indonesian officials were detained by Malaysian maritime authorities who intercepted the group as they were being taken back to Indonesia.

All those involved have been released but the spat saw both countries send protest notes to the other.

Anifah said the whole incident was regrettable but insisted that the detention of the Indonesian fisheries enforcement officials was in line with Malaysian standard operating procedure.

“I want to make it clear that the treatment meted out to the three officials was not as bad as what was reported by sections of the Indonesian media,” he told a press conference.

“However, in the aftermath of the incident, Malaysian enforcement officials will no longer handcuff Indonesian enforcement officials nor make them wear ‘detainee uniforms’, if and when they are detained,” he said.

Natalegawa said both sides agreed that intensifying negotiations – which have already dragged on for 16 rounds with no resolution – was the best way to avoid a recurrence of the problem.

“These meetings will come out with one standard operating procedure and rule of engagement for the enforcement units of both countries to engage when faced with a similar situation,” he said.

The meetings aimed at resolving the maritime border issue will be held in Kuala Lumpur in October 11 and 12 and in Jakarta on November 23-24.

Anifah said discussions would cover zones in the Sulawesi Sea, the southernmost part of the Straits of Malacca, the South China Sea, and possibly the Singapore Straits.

Malaysia said last week that if there was no resolution, the border dispute could end up in the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

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