Jakarta - A disputed area in the Sulawesi Sea has threatened to jeopardise ties between Malaysia and Indonesia, which appeared to be on the upswing following Indonesian President S B Yudhoyono’s visit to Kuala Lumpur last month.
In a sign of how serious the issue has become, the Indonesian Navy on March 2 deployed three warships to the area afterMalaysia’s national oil company, Petronas, awarded an oil exploration contract to Royal Dutch Shell.
Malaysiaargues that the waters in theSulawesiSea, where the exploration is to take place, are within the limits ofMalaysia’s continental shelf as published in the Territorial Waters and the Continental Shelf Boundaries of Malaysia Map 1979.
"MalaysiarejectsIndonesia's contention that the areas are withinIndonesia's maritime territory.Malaysiahas sovereign rights and jurisdiction to explore and exploit natural resources within its continental shelf in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982," a Malaysian Foreign Ministry statement said.
However,Indonesia- which lodged a formal protest on Feb 25 -says thatMalaysia’s claim was made based on a self-made map from 1979, which is not recognised by theIndonesiagovernment.
“It is a violation of our territorial integrity,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Marty Natalegawa said, referring to the Malaysian concession to the Anglo-Dutch oil giant made on Feb 16.
Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid AlbarsaidKuala Lumpurwould strive to resolve the dispute amicably.
“We have to find a solution that is acceptable. As far as we are concerned, we have done on the basis of our understanding what is within our right, maritime right.”
Some analysts believe that apart fromoil, national sovereignty is also a major considerationinJakarta’s decision to adopt a tough stand.
After having to concede its claims to two small islands in theSulawesiSea- at the behest of the International Court of Justice in 2002 -Indonesiahas warned that it would not tolerate a similar loss of territory in the future.
A three-star army general told The Straits Times: “We lost East Timor in 1999. That was a disaster. We lost Sipadan and Ligitan in 2002. We will not allowMalaysiaor any other country to steal another inch of our territory again."
* Jakarta fumes over Petronas’ oil exploration deal (The Straits Times, March 1)
* Warships deployed close to disputed territory (The Jakarta Post, March 2)
* Areas in Sulawesi Sea within Malaysian borders (Bernama, March 3)