Indonesia tests oil dispute waters
NDONESIA'S President plans to visit an island near the Malaysian border after he sent warships there, following Malaysia's move to award oil exploration rights there, a government official said yesterday.
The dispute comes as relations between Malaysia and Indonesia are tested by a Malaysian crackdown on illegal workers, many of them from Indonesia.
A presidential palace official said President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's visit to Sebatik Island today was "partly to visit Indonesian workers as well as to see the border area".
He was referring to Indonesians who sought temporary shelter in the Indonesian part of Sebatik island after the Malaysian crackdown.
The northern sector of the island is part of the Malaysian state of Sabah and the southern sector is in Indonesia's East Kalimantan province.
The island lies close to the Sipadan and Ligitan islands which Indonesia lost to Malaysia in a legal battle in the International Court of Justice in December 2002.
Three Indonesian ships were patrolling off the coast in the area while a fourth was on the way, the official Antara news agency quoted a navy spokesman as saying.
Indonesia sent the ships in a show of strength after Malaysia struck an exploration deal for nearby sites with Anglo-Dutch giant Royal Dutch/Shell.
However, both countries have said they would work to resolve the issue.
Indonesian foreign ministry spokesman Marty Natalegawa said the deployment of the warships was in line with the country's policy to maintain its sovereignty while pursuing diplomatic channels.
"The Indonesian Government stands ready, it has consistently and continues to stand ready, to address the issues through diplomatic channels," he said.
"While pursuing this, it is also the sovereign right and the responsibility of the Indonesian Government to patrol those Indonesian waters."
Last year, Indonesia awarded another oil giant, US-based Unocal Corp, the right to explore for hydrocarbons in the same area.