Dangerous Seas Ahead If Indonesia Breaks Up

Monday, December 06, 1999
Pirates and marauders will rule what are now Indonesia's territorial waters if the country disintegrates, increasing security risks to the whole region, Jakarta's minister for maritime exploration said. Sarwono Kusumaatmadja said if Indonesia fell apart, there would be no effective regime to police the waters - which include some of the world's busiest and most strategic sea lanes. His warning comes as Indonesia faces growing calls for independence from several provinces, in particular restive Aceh at the northern tip of the Sumatra Island, the gateway to the strategic Straits of Malacca. Analysts worry if Aceh breaks away, it will trigger the disintegration of the country. International Waters Likely To Be Choppy "If this country breaks up, these archipelagic seas would become internationalized. Anybody could come in and it will be a battle ground between various interests," said Sarwono. "There would be a very great security risk for the whole region. It would be more dangerous for anyone to venture into these waters...they would be harassed, pirated," he said. The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) reported that the number of actual or attempted pirate raids worldwide surged by more than 25 percent to 180 in the first three quarters of 1999, up from 143 in the same period in 1998. More than one third of the attacks took place in Indonesian waters. In August, a department of the United Nations called on Southeast Asian nations, particularly Indonesia, to respond immediately. Sarwono said Indonesia has a comprehensive surveillance system set up throughout the archipelago. He rejected the view that foreign powers were trying to engineer the break-up of the country, as expressed by some legislators and senior government officials, saying a fragmented Indonesia would not serve anyone's interests. "It is not true because their world is much better served by a unified and strong Indonesia," said Sarwono. Aceh's calls for independence have increased since the government allowed the former Portuguese colony of East Timor to vote to break away from Indonesia in August. On Nov. 8, more than half a million people flooded Aceh's capital Banda Aceh to demand a referendum. President Abdurrahman Wahid promised to hold a referendum in seven months but has ruled out offering independence. Wahid said the referendum would be to decide on the implementation of Islamic law there. On Thursday, 2,000 Acehnese rallied at parliament in Jakarta to express support for Wahid's offer of referendum. Staunchly-Moslem and resource-rich, the proud Acehnese are resentful at Jakarta siphoning off their province's natural resources while the majority of its population remain poor. Acehnese are also angry at the government's failure to make the military account for its human rights abuses, estimated to have killed at least 2,000 people during a nine-year military operation from 1989-1998. Sarwono believes Aceh's chances of breaking away are slim as it has not received any international support, unlike East Timor. It is internationally recognized as Indonesian sovereign territory. "The root cause of the anger of the Acehnese people is injustice, abuses by the central government - that has to be addressed," he said. - (Amy Chew, Reuters)

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