Jakarta. Tensions between Malaysia and Indonesia are heating up again following the arrest of three Indonesian maritime officers over an apparent border dispute.
The three officers were in Bintan waters off Riau Islands when they were arrested on Friday night by the Malaysian Marine Operations Force, according to Aji Sularso, the director general of supervision at the Indonesian Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries.
He said the officers were arrested shortly after detaining seven Malaysian fishermen who were part of a group aboard five boats illegally fishing in Indonesian waters. “Malaysia said that it was their territory, but they are our waters,” Aji insisted on Sunday.
The three had been part of a five-strong patrol team when they encountered the fishermen. Two officers took seven of the fishermen to Sekupang, Batam, while three boarded the fishing boats, where they were arrested.
Malaysian state news agency Bernama has reported that the incident took place in Kota Tinggi waters, off the southeastern coast of Johor state.
“The incident occurred about 9:30 p.m. when the 15 fishermen, between the ages of 23 and 63, were four nautical miles south-east of Tanjung Punggai [in Johor] before they were approached by an Indonesian fisheries enforcement boat and detained,” Kota Tinggi Police Supt. Osman Muhammad Sebot was quoted as saying.
Initial reports also said the Malaysians fired at the Indonesian patrol boat, but officials denied this.
“The Malaysian police only fired warning shots,” said Djoko Suyanto, Indonesia’s coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs.
Most reports said that after the warning shots were fired, the Indonesian patrol boat fled to Batam along with seven of the detained fishermen.
Widyarka Ryananta, social and cultural information counselor at the Indonesian Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, said Malaysia would give its official version of events today.
Aji also denied reports Malaysia had offered to trade the seven Malaysian fishermen for the three Indonesian officers.
In a news conference on Sunday evening, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Fadel Muhammad said Jakarta would send a diplomatic note to the Malaysian government over the incident.
“Three steps will be taken by our government to resolve this matter,” Fadel said.
Firstly, “the Foreign Ministry will issue a reprimand, or in diplomatic language a diplomatic note, to the Malaysian government as its police crossed into Indonesian territory.”
Second, the government would also secure the release of the three officers, and third, it would ask Malaysia to ensure this kind of incident did not happened again.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said the matter must be resolved diplomatically to avoid straining relations.
Fadel said there had been at least 10 border violations involving Malaysian and Chinese fishing boats this year, and 14 such violations by Malaysian boats last year. “We will work with the Navy and water police to help us with border security,” he said.
Indonesia is highly sensitive about its territorial integrity since losing the tiny islands of Sipadan and Ligitan off the northeastern coast of Borneo — disputed since 1969 — to Malaysia following a 2002 ruling by the International Court of Justice.
Lawmaker Tjahjo Kumolo, from House of Representatives Commission I for defense, information and foreign affairs, said the government must make a strong protest over the incident.
“Malaysia is Indonesia’s close friend. But the government must not turn a blind eye to this,” Tjahjo said. “The Malaysian police have humiliated our sovereignty.”