Defense Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro says that discussions about the Australian Navy being given greater freedom to enter Indonesian waters to chase or rescue asylum-seeker boats will be based on the Lombok Treaty signed by the two countries in 2006.
The treaty includes declarations that Australia and Indonesia will respect each other’s territorial sovereignty.
“The discussion has gone into details and we will discuss it next month,” Purnomo said, adding that Australian Defense Minister Stephen Smith was scheduled to visit Indonesia next month to discuss defense cooperation.
The Indonesian minister sought to assuage concerns expressed by several lawmakers over the government’s plan to allow foreign forces to enter the country’s territory without specific permission.
“The output may come in the form of an agreement or a memorandum of understanding. It will not breach our sovereignty as it will be based on the Lombok Treaty. But let’s just wait until September,” Purnomo told a news conference after holding a fast-breaking event with ministry officials and the media late on Thursday.
He said that the framework would serve as the basis for the discussion over allowing the nearest ship — Indonesian or Australian — to respond to emergency calls from passenger vessels sailing between the countries.
Jakarta is responsible for a large swath of the treacherous waters between Java and Australia’s Christmas Island, but its capabilities are far inferior to its neighbor’s and Australian ships are often drafted in.
Several refugee boats have sunk in the area recently, killing hundreds of people. Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono have pledged closer links on the issue.
Defense Ministry secretary general Vice Marshal Eris Herryanto said that in future, help during an emergency situation would involve the search and rescue agencies from both countries. In Indonesian waters, operations will be under the command of search and rescue agency Basarnas. “Both parties will meet next month to discuss in detail the technicalities,” he said.
On Wednesday, Foreign Affairs Minister Marty Natalegawa said the cooperation did not amount to letting Australian ships enter Indonesian territory without permission. Instead, they will be allowed in to rescue sinking ships.
The discussions are aimed at strengthening cooperation between the parties during emergency calls, he added.
Purnomo said: “Most important is that there is an understanding that we need to help when somebody needs help.”
One of the details that will be discussed at the September meeting is how the nearest Indonesian or Australian ship will respond to an emergency call from outside their respective territorial waters.
“We must understand that there is an emergency situation. This is about rescuing, which we need to do,” Purnomo said.
Indonesia has been a popular staging post for aslyum-seekers from the Middle East and South Asia bound for Australia.