Putrajaya -Malaysiahopes to further ease tensions withIndonesiaover a disputed oil-rich region in theSulawesiSeaby reducing its military presencethere. “We want to reduce our military presence in disputed areas such as Batuan Unarang as there are overlapping claims but that does not mean we won't continue to patrol the area or keep a watch over it,” Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar said on March 17.
“MalaysiaandIndonesiaare guarding and monitoring the area but we are doing it cautiously to prevent any untoward incidents.There should not be any activities in areas that are still in dispute,” he added.
The move follows an assurance given by Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono that he would control the brewing debate in his country over the two neighbours'latest territorial dispute.
Tensions flared last month afterMalaysia’s state-oil company, Petronas, awarded oil exploration rights to oil giant Shellin an area claimed byIndonesiaas its own. The oilfield blocks are nearMalaysia’s Sipadan and Ligitan islands. ButIndonesiasaysMalaysia’s sea territory extends only 19km offshore.
Both countries have deployed navy vessels to the area. The dispute has also inflamed nationalist passions inIndonesia. Anti-Malaysian protests have been held in severalIndonesian cities in recent weeks, with Malaysian flags being burnt during some of the rallies. The Indonesian Ambassador toMalaysia, Mr H Rusdihardjo, had apologied toMalaysia for the flag-burning incidents.
While both government have agreed to try to resolve the issue through diplomacy, a “war” has already broken out over the dispute – in cyberspace.
According to Media Indonesia, thecyberwar has so far damaged more than 80 websites in the two countries.The newspaper quoted Mr Budi Rahardjo, head ofIndonesia’s Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT), that at least 48 Malaysian websites and 36 Indonesian websites had been hacked.
He saidIndonesia's CERT was working with the Malaysian CERT to alert operators of the hacked websites to immediately protect their websites by upgrading their online security.
As the dispute continues,acommentarypublished in The Jakarta Post wondered why Asean had not entered the picture.
Writer Dr Rizal Sukma, Director of Studies at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)Jakarta, said: "There have not been any significant efforts from Asean to help diffuse the tension. In fact, there is no institutionalised mechanism within Asean to respond to such a problem among member states. As an institution for regional cooperation, Asean has always been reticent when it comes to political and security issues. Indeed, the tension betweenIndonesiaandMalaysia, and the silence of Asean, has once again demonstrated the growing irrelevance of the association.”
* Cyber War 'Damaged 80 Websites In Indonesia, Malaysia' (Bernama, March 20)
* Malaysia moves to ease tensions (The Star, March 18)
* War will never solve our problems (The Jakarta Post, March 21)