President moves to calm tensions between Indonesia and Malaysia


Indonesian protesters shout slogans during a protest against the Malaysian government following a border disputes between the two countries on Aug. 26, 2010.


Adek Berry

Top: Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was compelled to address the nation on Sept. 1 after growing criticism from lawmakers that he was buckling amid an escalating maritime border dispute with Malaysia.

Yudhoyono, a retired Army general, said during a nationally televised speech at the Armed Forces headquarters that he would only resolve territorial issues through diplomacy. The long-standing border dispute stemmed from the arrest of three Indonesian maritime officers by sea-borne Malaysian police in waters near Indonesia’s Bintan island on Aug. 13 after they had detained seven Malaysian fishermen.

Meanwhile, members of Yudhoyono’s government also denounced anti-Malaysia protests as going too far, in particular when an ultranationalist group burned flags and threw human feces at the Malaysian Embassy during a protest.

Anti-corruption activists are petitioning the government to exclude corruption convicts from prison sentence reductions traditionally handed out during national holidays for good behavior. The move comes in the wake of public outrage that Aulia Pohan, former central bank deputy governor and in-law of President Yudhoyono, was paroled on Aug. 18 after receiving a reduction in his three-year sentence, a common practice during Indonesian Independence Day.

Justice and Human Rights Minister Patrialis Akbar responded by agreeing to discuss banning graft convicts from receiving reductions, but one of his subordinates confirmed that some 300 people convicted of corruption would still be granted sentence reductions to mark the Muslim Idul Fitri holiday on Sept. 10 and 11.

Money: The Indonesian government is seeking some $2.5 billion dollars in compensation for environmental damages from an oil company owned by the government of Thailand after a 2009 offshore oil spill in the Timor Sea. The company immediately rejected the claim on Aug. 27 because Indonesia had no evidence of economic damage.

It was unclear how the Indonesian government arrived at the $2.4 billion figure, and various officials at the national and local level gave different amounts for the damages. Oil began flowing into the sea after a blowout at the Montara wellhead in August 2009 in a unique habitat area. The leak, just off the northern coast of Australia, was capped after 74 days.

PTTEP Australasia, a unit of PTT Exploration and Production, said in a statement on Sept. 3 that it "has not accepted any claim" by Indonesia over the months-long Montara spill, Australia's worst offshore drilling accident.

The head of Japanese consumer electronics giant Panasonic confirmed that it planned to move its production base to Indonesia, presumably because of it was struggling with high labor costs in China.

Visiting Panasonic President Fumio Ohtsubo told President Yudhoyono and Vice President Boediono during meetings on Aug. 25 that his company would move its factories from China as well as Vietnam to Indonesia to take advantage of lower wages and the booming economy, which is driven by consumer spending.

Jakarta’s sex and pirated pornographic DVD sectors apparently didn’t take a financial hit from the holy fasting month of Ramadan, which ended Sept. 9. In fact, local prostitutes, pimps and blue movie hawkers reported it was business as usual during the entire 30-day period.

Elsewhere: The country’s reigning beauty queen, Miss Indonesia Qory Sandioriva, was savagely criticized after the release of a YouTube video on Aug. 15 that showed her answering interview questions in broken English during the preliminary rounds of the Miss Universe Pageant.

Sandioriva was subjected to taunts and ridicule on social networking sites and websites in Indonesia and abroad for her stammering answers to questions. Adding insult to injury, Sandioriva was later forced to deny media reports on Sept. 7 that she had run away from her parents’ home in Jakarta and joined a mystical cult.