Tuesday, February 11, 2014

1) Australia-Indonesia: a dangerous impasse

1) Australia-Indonesia: a dangerous impasse
2) Is the Australian government  engaging in piracy?
3) TNI Searching for Missing Papuan Fishermen After PNG Soldiers Allegedly Burn Boat



1) Australia-Indonesia: a dangerous impasse

The exercise is called Operation Sovereign Borders, with Australian naval vessels pushing the refugee boats back into Indonesian waters; if considered unsafe, the refugees are transferred into newly bought boats able to make the trip back to Indonesia
Australia and Indonesia are engaged in a dogfight of sorts, with the potential to escalate. Relations between the two countries have punctuated over the years between friendship and open hostility. The worst period in the last few decades was Australia’s championing of East Timor’s struggle for independence from Indonesia. Indeed, without Australia’s active involvement on the side of East Timor at the national and international level, East Timor probably would still be under Indonesia’s rule. It is ironic, though, that the independent state of East Timor is now engaged in a legal battle in the International Court of Justice at The Hague, fighting to get its proper share of oil revenues by having the maritime boundary re-adjudicated, which Australia allegedly rigged in its favour. However, that is a different issue.
Coming to the present tense relationship between the two countries, its trigger is the recent change of government in Australia, with the conservative leader, Tony Abbot, becoming the country’s new prime minister. For Australia’s conservative ruling coalition, the refugees seeking asylum in Australia from different countries is being projected as an avalanche of people likely to swamp the country, posing all sorts of problems. Worse still is that many of them are from Muslim countries, with the potential for terrorism. During the recent elections, Tony Abbot’s party made “stopping the boats” carrying refugees a central issue of its campaign. They played up their previous ‘success’ under the former conservative prime minister John Howard in stopping the flow of refugees through a highly punitive policy. Even the Labour Party government, now in opposition, was quite tough on the refugee issue, but Tony Abbot prevailed, viewed as the toughest and likely to deliver. 
Jakarta comes into the picture because many of the “boat people” (as the refugees are called here) use Indonesia as a transit point, hiring unsafe boats and risking their lives to reach Australia. The Abbot government has upped the ante, against the wishes of Jakarta, to push the boats back to Indonesia. To accomplish this, it has set up an operational command centre with an army general, answering to the immigration minister. The whole exercise is called Operation Sovereign Borders, with Australian naval vessels pushing the refugee boats back into Indonesian waters; if considered unsafe, the refugees are transferred into newly bought boats able to make the trip back to Indonesia. In other words, the entire jargon of the operation is straight from a war-fighting manual.
All this is being done against Indonesia’s expressed wishes, with its foreign minister putting it mildly as “unhelpful”. In pushing the boats back, Australian vessels have breached Indonesia’s maritime boundary a few times, acknowledging and apologising for the ‘unintended’ transgression. Not surprisingly, it evoked a harsh response from Indonesia, with the country’s navy increasing patrolling of its maritime border. Australia though, is determined to “stop the boats”, regarding it as a simple matter of protecting its borders from the “illegals”, as the refugees are called here. To consider that these refugees, in their leaky boats, would be a threat to Australia’s sovereignty is stretching the imagination, to put it mildly, but it works well with the domestic political constituency. 
Speaking from Switzerland, where he was attending the World Economic Forum, Abbot said, “Stopping the boats is a matter of sovereignty and President Yudhoyono of all people ought to understand...just how seriously countries take their sovereignty” — an apparent reference to Indonesia’s sensitivities about the separatist movement in its restive province of West Papua. In other words, the boat people are threatening Australian sovereignty, and if Indonesia is not prepared to stop them from heading towards Australia, Canberra would be fully entitled to ‘turn back the boats’, the political slogan that won Tony Abbot the elections. 
When Tony Abbot came to power a few months ago, he paid his first official visit to Indonesia, which he had described as Australia’s most important neighbour, stressing that Jakarta (Asia) rather then Geneva (Europe) would be the centerpiece of Australia’s foreign policy. During his visit and meetings with Yudhoyono, he apologised about some exuberant election time statements that the opposition, Abbot and his party, had made about returning the boat people, hoping to enlist Indonesia’s help in stopping the boats at their starting point(s) in that country. His visit set a positive tone to build on their bilateral relationship. 
However, it was a false start because as soon as it was revealed, through leaks from Edward Snowdon’s material, that Australia (as part of the ‘five eyes’ special intelligence sharing arrangement between the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) was involved in tapping the phones of President Yudhoyono, his wife and his inner circle, the goodwill evaporated. The reaction in Jakarta was swift and sharp, leading to a virtual suspension of important aspects of the relationship between the two countries. President Yudhoyono took it quite personally when Tony Abbot came out with the standard response of neither denying nor confirming intelligence matters, studiously avoiding any sort of regret or apology notwithstanding his profuse expression of the ‘special relationship’ with Indonesia during his just-completed Jakarta visit.
Inevitably, when the issue of Australian naval intrusions into Indonesian waters became news, the mix became quite explosive, diplomatically speaking. The Australian naval personnel have now started transferring ‘the illegals’ onto safe boats specially purchased and pushing them towards Indonesian shores. To seek the cooperation of countries like Sri Lanka and Malaysia to prevent refugees sailing from their destinations, Australia is making them a gift of naval vessels to intercept ‘boat people’ heading towards Australia. Its intent is not only to enlist the cooperation of regional countries in Australia’s ‘stop the boats’ policy but also, it would appear, to isolate Indonesia as a “recalcitrant’, a term Paul Keating, a former Australian prime minister, used against Malaysia’s former prime minister Mahathir in a different context. 
Australia-Indonesia relations have been difficult at the best of times and when Jakarta senses that Canberra is railroading its strategic objectives, ignoring Indonesian sensitivities, the going gets even tougher. The Australian experience of acting tough during East Timor’s liberation struggle, with Indonesia losing territory, is inspirational and might be a useful guide to deal with Indonesia. It appears that, despite all the huffing and puffing from the Indonesian government, Australia might temporarily achieve the objective of ‘stopping the boats’, as their flow has already turned into a trickle and, in some months, stopped altogether. But in the process, the resultant national humiliation for Indonesia will become a hot issue in the forthcoming elections in that country, further damaging their bilateral relationship. 
Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim country of about 250 million people and Australia needs its cooperation over a wide range of issues, besides immigration control, like drugs, terrorism and so on. To be snubbed and humiliated by a small country like Australia with a population of about 23 million rankles and shapes national attitudes and perceptions over a period. In the meantime, the standstill from the intelligence saga of spying on President Yudhoyono, his wife and his inner circle continues. As the Chinese proverb goes: Australia and Indonesia are going through “interesting times”. 

2) Is the Australian government  engaging in piracy?
Max Lane, Melbourne | Opinion | Wed, February 12 2014, 9:52 AM
It would appear that at least three times in recent weeks, the Australian navy and also the customs service has detained Indonesian and other foreign citizens traveling on boats heading for Christmas Island, a territory under Australian sovereignty. They were people intending to claim refugee status on arrival on Australian territory, which is a right guaranteed under international law. From reports in the Australian press, the initial detentions either took place on the high seas or in Australian waters. 

However, the Indonesian, Iraqi, Somalian and other citizens were then in de facto detention as they were towed back across international waters toward Indonesian waters against their will. Some of the refugees have claimed that the Australian ships turned off their lights at night, the implication being that they entered into Indonesian waters. The Australian navy has denied this.

In one case, the refugees were towed back in the boat in which they had been traveling. In two other cases, they were transferred — obviously against their will — into small lifeboats that the Australian government recently bought in Singapore and made to go back to Java in them. Two such lifeboats have now been found on the Java coast. 

The Australian government denies outright and refuses to investigate allegations by some of the refugees that they were mistreated. In detailed reports published in the Australian newspaper, The Sydney Morning Herald and by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), refugees allege that they had their hands held up against hot engine pipes resulting in extensive burns. Others claimed they were kicked. Still others claimed they were only allowed to urinate once per day while in detention on Australian ships. The Indonesian citizens involved — crew on the ships — have not been interviewed by the Australian reporters.

It is also reported that two refugees returned in the first lifeboat later died. Their “gifted” lifeboat landed on the Javanese coast in jungle. The refugees and Indonesian crew then had to find their way through the jungle. The Australian journalists report that they were told that two refugees drowned trying to cross a river in the jungle.

The Australian government has not only claimed that the reports of abuse are lies, but have accused the Australian media of being unpatriotic and irresponsible in even airing the allegations. This reminds me of Soeharto-era Indonesia. All of us outside the Australian government have no way of being able to assess the refugees allegations of abuse, although the latest investigation by Michael Bachelard in the The Sydney Morning Herald (Feb. 6) is detailed and convincing. 

Moreover, there was also a recently an announcement that the Australian Navy was investigating Navy personnel being members of racist Facebook groups. In another Herald article one of these personnel was quoted as saying: “I am off to deal with these f****ers today”, referring abusively to refugees.

I am not an expert in international law or law of the sea but the forcible seizure of other people’s boats, the detention of their crew (Indonesian citizens) and passengers (citizens of various countries), the forcible transfer of such people to other boats, and the coerced towing them to a destination not of their choice would all seem to amount to piracy. 

Perhaps I am wrong on this matter of law. Morally, however, it is quite clear that these are immoral, inhumane acts. Personally, I would like to see Immigration and Border Protection Minister, Scott Morrison and the puppet General doing his work charged with piracy and criminal negligence causing death.

As with any allegations of abuse by state officials anywhere, they should be properly investigated, whether or not the Australian prime minister or others believe they are true or not. Once allegations of abuse are rejected as lies without investigation, we head toward impunity for state officials.

There is a very easy solution to the problem of the refugees in Indonesia who want to apply for refugee status in Australia. 

Rather than burden Indonesian society with the problem of dealing with this and rather than spending hundreds of millions of dollars on inhumane prisons for refugees in Papua New Guinea and Nauru, the Australian government could re-direct that money to strengthen the resources of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Indonesia so that these people fleeing war, political repression and economic chaos can be quickly processed and depart by air to Australia. The reason that some are tempted to use boats is because of the very long wait for processing.

Refugees have always been welcomed by the majority of the Australian people as they start to settle, if not by consecutive inhumane Australian governments, both under the Australian Labour Party and the Liberal National Parties.

The writer teaches politics and international studies at Victoria University, Melbourne, and has been visiting Indonesia since 1969. He is the translator of the novels of Pramoedya Ananta Toer and the plays of W.S. Rendra. He is the author of articles and books on Indonesia, including Unfinished Nation: Indonesia before and after Suharto (Verso).

3) TNI Searching for Missing Papuan Fishermen After PNG Soldiers Allegedly Burn Boat

Jayapura. The Indonesian Military (TNI) began a search on Tuesday for five missing fishermen off the coast of Papua after soldiers from neighboring Papua New Guinea allegedly torched their boat and ordered the men to swim to shore.
“Fifty personnel have been deployed for the rescue and they will be helped by the five fishermen who managed to rescue themselves,” Merauke Marine Security Unit commander Brig. Gen. Buyung Lalana told the Jakarta Globe on Tuesday.
“We do not involve the PNG soldiers because they are the ones who have caused these fishermen to go missing by setting their boat on fire and ordering them to swim across the sea.”
The details of the incident were still sketchy on Tuesday, but Indonesian officials in PNG said they were seeing clarification from government officials. The Indonesian embassy in Port Morsby has asked the government to assist in the search and rescue operation.
“The incident happened in the Western province, so we have asked an official explanation from the PNG government about how their soldiers treated our fishermen,” said Jahar Goeltom, the Indonesian consular official for Sandaun province. “We have asked PNG to help search for the missing fishermen because they could be stranded in PNG.”
According to preliminary reports, 10 Papuan fishermen decided to head to Kadawa, in neighboring PNG, to purchase sea cucumbers on Feb. 6. The men stopped by a TNI post in Torasi to have their travel documents checked. But when they neared Karu, PNG, the fishing boat was intercepted by three speed boats carrying soldiers from PNG.
The soldiers reportedly forced the fishermen to anchor at a small island at gunpoint. The soldiers then allegedly looted the boat, stealing fuel and cash before setting the vessel on fire.
The fishermen were told to swim back to Papua, a distance of several kilometers. Five fishermen made it to shore. The other five never made it.
The survivors reported the incident to officials at the TNI post in Torasi.
“We are still waiting for the official clarification from PNG government on why they treated our citizens that way,” Jahar said. ”It was an ultimate violation of the border meeting agreement and the international marine law.”
The incident prompted protests from Indonesian politicians. Deerd Tabuni, chairperson of the Papua House of Representatives, called the incident an inhumane act and a serious human rights violation.
‘We can classify the soldiers as armed robbers,’ Deerd said.
Papuan fishermen often traded in the area and have been known to carry proper documents, he said. If these fishermen were found in violation of PNG law they should have been processed under the requirements of the law.
“They could have followed the legal procedure and treated the fishermen in a humane way,” Deerd said. “We could have used a diplomatic method to resolve the matter.”
Foreign Affairs Minister Marty Natalegawa declined to comment on the issue on Tuesday.

Jayapura, 11/2 (Jubi) – Indonesia’s Foreign Ministry is seeking a clarification on an incident in which a sped boat carrying 10 Indonesians was allegedly burned by people believed to Papua New Guinea soldiers last week, an official said.
“We all agree to await the outcome as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jakarta is seeking clarification,” said the head of the Border and International Cooperation Department of Papua Province, Susanna Wanggai said Tuesday.
The search is continuing for five people who are still missing following the of the coast of Merauke in PNG waters on February 6.
“So far none of the five missing has been found,” she said.
She said the search operation was difficult because of heavy seas off the South Coast of Papua.
“Well it is very challenging yet we pray to God that there will be a miracle and they are safe,”she said.
Meanwhile, a deputy speaker of the Papuan Legislative Council ( DPR Papua), Yunus Wonda, called the attack on Indonesians inhumane.
“We strongly condemn this action since this could harm the relationship between Papua, Indonesia and PNG, ” he said.
He said he hoped that the incident would not affect good relations between the countries and cultures.
He said DPR Papua demanded decisive action from the PNG government on soldiers if they were found to have been involved in the attack.
“Whether the fishermen had immigration papers or not, the soldiers’ action was still not acceptable and humane,“ he said. (Jubi / Alex/Tina)

Merauke , 11/2 ( Jubi ) – The commander of Merauke Naval Base XI, Brigadier General Buyung Lalana, has urged border crossers entering Papua New Guinea waters to search  five fishermen who went missing after their boat was allegedly attacked by people suspected to be PNG soldiers.
“The search operation is continuing, with 12 rescuers being deployed together with two of five survivors and relatives of the missing, ” Buyung told reporters in Merauke on Tuesday (2/11 ).
There was no information about where speed boat is .
“Even members of the military also took part in the search and the result was zero,” he said.
The search operation has been hampered by heavy seas and strong winds, he said.
Buyung confirmed that the ten fishermen reported to the Torasi post before they crossed to PNG territory. .
“Yes, they reported themselves and generally they are traditional border-crossers. After the incident, there were some who survived and directly returned,” he said.
He said according to one survivor the speedboat was burned by armed people wearing the uniform of PNG soldiers.
He added there had been cases in which PNG citizens had been arrested for not having immigration papers, but they were treated well and allowed to return home safely. ( Jubi / Frans Kobun / Tina)

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