By MALUM NALU
Jakarta is “sad” at the outbursts against Indonesia by deputy Prime Minister Belden Namah and has expressed concern that this could affect relations between Indonesia and PNG, according to PNG Ambassador to Indonesia Commodore Peter Ilau.
Former PNG Defence Force Commander Ilau said he met last Friday with Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, his deputy, four senior directors general and the Indonesia secretary for foreign affairs and was conveyed that message.
“Jakarta has noted Namah's outburst, and was sad that such public remarks could be made when the incident occurred sometime back,” Ilau told The National from Jakarta yesterday.
“Minister Natalegawa was seriously concerned that our robust and special relationship between RI (Republic of Indonesia) and PNG should not be jeopardised for such incidents, which could be resolved amicably through diplomatic means.
“He asked if I could convey all of this to the PNG Government, and if he could also speak to his counterpart as soon as possible as a mark of respect and sincerity.”
Ilau said he first became aware of the incident involving Air Niugini’s Falcon jet and two Indonesian fighter aircraft last Friday.
“ But I was not formerly approached by anyone until 3pm Jakarta time, when I received an urgent invite by the director general of PNG Desk in Indonesian Foreign Ministry for an urgent meeting with Hon Marty Natalegawa, the RI Foreign Minister,” he said.
“It was round about the same time when I received an email from the Asia Desk in PNG Foreign Affairs alerting me to the outburst by our DPM (Namah).
“At 5.30, I was ready at the Foreign Minister's office, and waited until 6pm when he was free from his own briefings to accept me.
“In the meeting also was the deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, like our vice ministers, plus four of his senior directors general and the equivalent of his Secretary for Foreign Affairs.
“He basically explained their understanding of the incident, and reiterated that the process for requesting flight clearance requires the consent and approval of three key stakeholders. Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), Ministry of Transport (MoT), and TNI (Defence).”
Ilau said Natalegawa told him that the flight clearance for the Falcon was registered on their records as Dec 3-17; however, the intrusion of their air space was on Nov 29.
“The Falcon was intercepted in their view as a standard operational procedure (SOP) when unidentified aircraft enter their territorial airspace,” he said.
“Such intrusions, he advised, are SOP in most countries where threats are often expected in such approaches through their sovereign airspace.
“Minister Natalegawa painstakingly assured me over and over that at no time was there any hostile intent.
“There was no risk or harm intended.
“The response by the air force was to identify the intruder, and decide whether to get them to land at the nearest airfield or escort them out of their airspace, and the latter was the case.
“The Minister then made it clear to me that they did have some unconfirmed report that an amendment request for the flight clearance may have been made through the RI Transport Department, but there was no knowledge of this amendment with Ministry of Foreign Affairs or the TNI.
“The Minister reiterated that the agent(s) for the Falcon VIP jet may have submitted the amendment but failed to ensure that the process for total clearance was done properly and completed.”
Asked if this incident could damage Indonesia-PNG relations, Ilau said: “ My straight answer is no, but, if PNG Government takes the path of extreme by deporting the RI Ambassador, then we would be in the same situation as UK and Iran.
“My mission here would also have the same fate as my counterpart in Port Moresby, and that is an outcome no government in its right mind would ever consider.
“Our relationship is far too mature and robust, but it is also delicate and sensitive given our geographic and demographic implications.”
Ilau said the status quo of Indonesia-PNG relations was “business as usual” with Minister Natalegawa allowing an open door policy with him.
“He gave me his mobile number in front of his staff and encouraged me to call him at any time for clarifications or advise in general,” Ilau said.
“I have since called him twice to convey PM O'Neil's views.
“There is no restriction of any sort.
“The outburst by DPM (Namah) was on the Jakarta Post for a day, and I believe because the incident is consider outdated, there has not been any real concerns raised from any level.
“Both PM (O’Neill) and Natalegawa are of the same view to resolve the matter expeditiously and maintain the special relationship of two close neighbours.
“Jakarta press has mentioned the PNG concerns of the Nov 29 incident, and mentioned also that a similar incident concerning another small aircraft from another country also came through their airspace unidentified and were intercepted by the RI Air Force and were forced to land at an airfield, where they waited for 10 hours before they were released.
“These were policemen on the way to Timor Leste for peacekeeping duties.”
Ilau, who arrived in Jakarta last September and presented his credentials last October, said it was a “pity” that such an incident happened.
“…I just want to say it is a pity that we have to experience such misunderstanding between both our close neighbors,” he said.
“I also hope that PNG officials travelling our way should at least seek our assistance so that such problems are avoided in the future.
“That is why I am here, and the PNG Embassy, it is our job to improve and strengthen relationship but also to provide the best advice to avoid any misunderstanding.”