Subject: JP: TNI to Send Troops to Disputed Island of Batek

The Jakarta Post Tuesday, January 20, 2004

TNI to Send Troops to Disputed Island of Batek

Yemris Fointuna, The Jakarta Post, Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara

The Indonesian Military (TNI) says it will soon deploy troops to the disputed island of Batek, which is close to East Nusa Tenggara province and East Timor.

Wirasakti military commander Col. Moeswarno Moesanip, who is responsible for military affairs in East Nusa Tenggara, claimed the stationing of troops on the island was aimed at preventing the island being used for illegal activities, such as people trafficking or smuggling.

"Batek island is part of Indonesian territory, so we have to guard it. We plan to send around a combined unit of 10 to 15 personnel from the Navy, Army and police," he told The Jakarta Post on Monday.

Nevertheless, he could not give a definite date when the troops would be sent to Batek, saying the TNI had yet to complete the development of various facilities there, including accommodation for the troops.

The issue of Batek Island, near Kupang regency in East Nusa Tenggara, became a hot potato after the East Timor government claimed that it was part of Oecusi, the new nation's enclave in West Timor.

Responding to the claim, the Indonesian government said East Timor had never controlled the island and that the national red-and-white flag had been raised there since December 2002.

The dispute heated up further recently after East Timor's Minister of Foreign Affairs Ramos Horta criticized the TNI for holding military exercises on the disputed island at the end of last year.

Based on data from the Kupang administration, the island, which is uninhabited, is part of Oepoli village in North Amfoang subdistrict. It is located near international waters.

Due to its strategic location, fishermen from both Indonesia and East Timor often rest on the island.

Indonesia's Ministry of Transportation and Communication erected a beacon on the island that benefits fishermen from both countries.

Moesanif, however, said the island has no any economic value because most of it is made of coral.

Indonesia, a country of more than 13,000 islands, had to relinquish its claim over Sipadan and Ligitan islands last year after the International Court of Justice ruled in favor of neighboring Malaysia.

The dispute between Indonesia and Malaysia over the two islands came to the fore in 1969 when both countries started initial talks on delineating their common borders.

In 1989, the leaders of both countries started diplomatic efforts to settle the issue and in 1996 turned to international arbitration.

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