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Australia apologises to Indonesia for incursion

Publication Date : 19-01-2014

 

Australia apologised to Indonesia on Friday over Australian border patrol boats entering Indonesian territorial waters without permission in their bid to stop migrants.

The boat patrol issue had the potential to further damage strained relations between the neighbors. Indonesia downgraded its relations with Australia two months ago over the alleged bugging of phones belonging to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, his wife and members of his inner circle in 2009.

Australian Immigration and Border Protection Minister Scott Morrison confirmed that a formal apology on behalf of the Australian government would be made by the Australian Embassy in Jakarta on Friday.

The Associated Press reported that Australia’s naval chief had already apologised to his Indonesian counterpart, while Australia’s foreign minister had unsuccessfully attempted to contact her Indonesian counterpart to apologise, Morrison said. Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa is overseas on business.

Morrison described the breaches — which he became aware of on Wednesday — as “a very serious matter” that were “extremely regrettable”.

“We will ensure that the issues that led to these inadvertent breaches of Indonesian territorial sovereignty are rectified and do not reoccur,” Morrison said.

Indonesia has responded angrily over the boat patrol incursion, demanding Australia issue clarification over the incident and assurances that such an incident would not happen again.

“Indonesia is demanding formal clarification through diplomatic means regarding the alleged violation [...] Indonesia demands that such a violation will not reoccur,”

Agus Barnas, the spokesman for the Office of the Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister, told a press conference on Friday.

Foreign Ministry director general of multilateralism Hasan Kleib accompanied Agus during the press briefing.

Although Canberra said the incidents were inadvertent, Agus said it was “a serious matter in the bilateral relations of the two countries”, indicating that the fresh row could aggravate the ongoing spat.

Indonesia began downgrading its relations with Australia in November due to the spying allegations, suspending intelligence and military cooperation, including those over migrants.

Reuters reported that Morrison said Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was unable to reach Marty, who is in Myanmar for an Asean meeting, to discuss the breaches and that a formal apology would be issued on Friday.

It also reported that Morrison’s office did not reply to queries about whether the formal apology had been issued, but said Bishop had sent a letter to Marty.

Although Morrison said Australia “deeply regretted” the incidents, at the same time he maintained Australia’s right to protect its own borders.

“We have offered the apologies; we have been very clear about what has occurred both with Indonesia and here today,” he told reporters. “But we won’t let this setback get in the way of the job we were elected to do, which is to stop the boats.”

It appeared that Australia’s apology came two days after Morrison announced that no migrant boats had arrived in Australia for nearly a month since December 19, and arrivals had dropped by more than 80 per cent since Prime Minister Tony Abbott took office in September.

Undocumented migrants arriving in Australia by sea after passing through Indonesian transit points are a hot political issue in Australia and Abbott has promised constituents he will stop the boats.

Indonesia, which has opposed Canberra’s “turn back the boats” policy and has refused to receive boat people sent back by Australian authorities, is now set to increase maritime patrols as a “commitment to address the increasing illegal migrant movement”.

Jakarta is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, whereas Australia, which is one of Indonesia’s largest sources of foreign aid, is.

“Indonesia will intensify its maritime patrols in areas where violations of its sovereignty and territorial integrity are at risk,” Agus said.

 

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