Thursday, September 10, 2009

Jakarta and KL to cool hotheads

Sep 10, 2009

Ministers to meet after vigilantes in Indonesia go after Malaysians
By Salim Osman

JAKARTA: Malaysian and Indonesian foreign ministers will meet here next Thursday to try to calm tensions sparked by vigilante squads that have targeted Malaysians working here and called for war against Malaysia.

Datuk Anifah Aman and Mr Hassan Wirajuda will hold discussions against the backdrop of virulent protests against Malaysia's alleged 'theft' of a traditional Balinese dance.

The spat took a frightening turn on Tuesday when a vigilante group called the Benteng Demokrasi Rakyat (Bendera) blocked a road in the plush Menteng district in a hunt for Malaysians.

About 50 men armed with bambu runcing - sharpened bamboo poles - stopped motorists and demanded their identity cards. Police were called in and they broke up the group within an hour. The incident occurred a week after protesters, vowing to 'crush Malaysia', burned Malaysian flags and pelted the Malaysian Embassy in Jakarta with rotten eggs.

Malaysia's Foreign Minister told other ministers about the troubles and his planned meeting with his Indonesian counterpart at the weekly Cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Najib Razak yesterday.

PM Najib said yesterday that Indonesia's Ambassador to Malaysia Da'i Bachtiar had assured him the Indonesian government would ensure the safety of Malaysians.

The Malaysian Students Department, meanwhile, sent text messages telling students to be careful and to avoid Jalan Deponegoro, where the vigilante group confronted motorists and has its headquarters.

Bernama also reported that demonstrators had thrown rotten eggs at a house rented by Malaysian students of Gadja Mada University in Yogyakarta, Central Java, raising fears over the safety of Malaysians.

Datuk Anifah told The Star daily yesterday: 'When I meet my Indonesian counterpart, I will express Malaysia's concern and want assurances that the Indonesian authorities can guarantee the safety of Malaysians over there.'

Indonesia's Foreign Ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah, who confirmed that a meeting between the two ministers was being arranged, said Jakarta was obliged to ensure the security of foreign citizens.

'We condemn all acts of intimidation against foreign nationals in the country,' he told The Straits Times. 'In fact, we told the police to enforce the law against the vigilante groups.'

It was unfortunate, he said, that the incident happened but he was confident that ties between the two countries remained strong. 'It's important that we keep the communication channels open between the two governments so that issues can be clarified and the problems managed,' he added.

Indonesian legislator Yusron Ihza Mahendra said he was concerned that the incidents in Indonesia could spark a reaction against some 2 million Indonesians working in Malaysia. 'It is not about who is brave enough to confront Malaysians face to face,' he told the Jakarta Globe yesterday. 'It is about our people who may become victims of such careless actions.'

Bendera's leader, Mr Muchtar Bonaventura, said: 'In so many ways, Malaysia has stolen from us and insulted Indonesia. We feel offended and angry.'

He accused the Indonesian government of being soft, saying nationalists like him were forced to act on their own to uphold the country's honour and sovereignty.

'We are going to organise more actions against the Malaysians in the next few days. This may include declaring war against them,' he said. He claimed about 500 volunteers had signed up and were ready to go to war against Malaysia.

'We have started gathering weapons like samurai swords and ninja throwing stars and conducting military training for our volunteers who will go and fight in Malaysia in October,' he said.

Sticking points

ILL feelings in Indonesia towards Malaysia have risen in recent months over several issues:

  • Last month, word spread that Malaysia had screened tourism advertisements featuring the Balinese Pendet dance. The ad turned out to have been a botched promotion for a Discovery Channel programme, but that did little to dampen feelings in Indonesia.
  • In May, Indonesian model Manohara Odelia Pinot said she escaped the royal family after she was mistreated by her Kelantan prince husband Mohammad Fakhry, who sued her and her mother for defamation.
  • Both countries have claimed batik as part of their cultural heritage. Malaysian claims of ownership of the folk song Rasa Sayang have also angered Indonesians.
  • Indonesian migrant workers alleged they were mistreated by their Malaysian bosses, prompting Jakarta to ban its nationals from going to Malaysia to work as maids.
  • Both countries have overlapping claims in the oil- and gas-rich Ambalat area in the Sulawesi Sea, which they are still trying to resolve.

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