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NEWS UPDATES 11 June 2009

Maritime Dispute: Indonesia proposes joint patrols with Malaysia

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Indonesia has offered to conduct joint sea patrols with Malaysia in a bid to cool tensions over disputed waters in the oil-rich Ambalat area, Reuters quoted Jakarta's defence minister as saying Wednesday.

The navies of both countries have faced off several times in recent weeks, with Jakarta saying that it nearly opened fire on May 25 on a Malaysian patrol vessel.

Malaysia sent its armed forces chief Abdul Aziz Zainal to Jakarta on Wednesday in a bid to cool tensions over the long-running dispute in an area close to the Indonesian province of East Kalimantan and the Malaysian state of Sabah in Borneo.

"I explained to the Chief of Staff that we want a joint maritime border patrol between the two countries apart from the existing code of conduct between the two navies," Indonesian Defence Minister Juwono Sudarsono said after the meeting.

The minister later told Reuters in a telephone text message that: "I suggested a joint maritime patrol within and along each sea border so violations by each party will not be repeated."

Sudarsono told a news conference that Indonesia had also asked that Malaysian patrols did not to come too near to what it considered as its sovereign area.

Zainal did not attend the news conference, but Malaysian Defence minister Ahmad Zahid said on Tuesday that the army chief would suggest that the two countries temporarily stopped maritime patrols in the area to reduce the risk of confrontation.

The dispute over the territory and access to undersea oil and natural gas originated from a map which Malaysia published in 1979 which placed the area in its territory and which Indonesia protested.

Both countries have since handed out contracts to major foreign firms in the area.

Indonesia awarded Italy's major oil group ENI in a production sharing contract in 1999 and Unocal in 2004, which was later bought by US-based Chevron while Malaysia in 2005 struck an exploration deal with Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Malaysian state firm Petronas.


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