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NEWS UPDATES 10 June 2009

Malaysian army chief visits Indonesia amidst maritime dispute

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Malaysia sent its armed forces chief to Indonesia on Tuesday to soothe tensions over disputed waters, saying the two countries must temporarily stop maritime patrols there to reduce the risk of a confrontation, reported Reuters.

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 that it said had strayed into territorial waters that it claims.

"Our armed forces chief will be going to Indonesia this evening... and tomorrow there may be a reaction or counter proposal from the Indonesians," said Malaysian Defence Minister Ahmad Zahid.

He said military chief General Abdul Aziz Zainal would suggest to his Indonesian counterpart that both countries temporarily stop maritime patrols at the Ambalat oil concession block situated in waters off the island of Borneo.

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, while Malaysia in 2005 struck an exploration deal with Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Malaysian state firm Petronas.

Indonesia's government said it had issued 36 protest notes to Kuala Lumpur over what it sees as incursions by Malaysian forces over several years.

Ahmad Zahid said a heightened political climate ahead of Indonesia's presidential election next month could be one reason why the longstanding dispute has drawn such anger in the country.

"This would not have been as heated if not for parties which have certain interests.....the political climate now is reflective of the (Indonesian) presidential elections," said Ahmad Zahid.

Indonesian Foreign ministry spokesman, Teuku Faizasyah, told Reuters that military force was not a solution.

"The negotiation process is ongoing, so we hope Malaysia does not cloud the situation on the field."

"Our stance on Ambalat is that Ambalat block is within our sovereign rights. The Ambalat block is 80 miles from our continental shelf."



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