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Indonesia to step up patrol of Natuna Islands

JAKARTA — Indonesia will deploy new patrol boats and special forces troops equipped with its latest air defence system to the Natuna Islands cluster in the South China Sea, where Indonesian and Chinese vessels clashed recently, media reports said.

Indonesia to step up patrol of Natuna Islands

The boat of local fisherman Rusli Suhardi heads towards fishing grounds off the east coast of Natuna Besar, on July 9, 2014. Photo: Reuters

JAKARTA — Indonesia will deploy new patrol boats and special forces troops equipped with its latest air defence system to the Natuna Islands cluster in the South China Sea, where Indonesian and Chinese vessels clashed recently, media reports said.

Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti on Friday (April 8) launched four locally built Orca patrol ships that would be deployed to patrol the waters off Natuna, as well as the Arafuru sea between Papua New Guinea and Australia.

“I want (the Indonesian Fisheries Inspectorate Vessels System) to contribute more on securing the seas, our exclusive economic zone, and for poachers to see the government’s presence in guarding our waters,” Ms Susi was quoted saying by the Antara news agency.

On Tuesday, a report by IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly said the Indonesian air force is making plans to deploy special forces troops equipped with the Oerlikon Skyshield air defence system to the north of the largest Natuna Islands, Pulau Natuna Besar. The troops will also be deployed to the east of the Indonesian air force’s Ranai airbase on Natuna.

The Skyshield system, which consists of a 35 mm cannon capable of destroying aircraft and missiles, is currently deployed at several Indonesia air bases.

News of its deployment to the Natunas was disclosed in a transcript of a meeting between Indonesian military chief General Gatot Nurmantyo and the Indonesian House of Representatives’ commission on defence, intelligence, and foreign affairs. Jane’s, which was given a copy of the transcript, reported that there were discussions to boost further military deployments to the Natunas, including medium-range air defence systems, fighter jet facilities, and an unmanned aerial vehicle squadron.

Indonesia’s military build-up in the Natuna Islands comes amid an escalating series of maritime clashes with Chinese fishing vessels in the area. One incident which escalated into a political row took place last month when an Indonesian patrol boat tried to detain a Chinese fishing vessel which they claimed had been operating without a permit.

But as the Indonesian authorities tried to tow it to shore, Chinese coastguards appeared and rammed the captured boat, helping it to go free. Indonesia has called on China to hand over the fishing boat, saying it had operated illegally in its waters.

Beijing claims nearly all the South China Sea - through which a third of the world’s oil passes - despite conflicting claims from the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei.

Indonesia does not have overlapping territorial claims with Beijing in the hotly disputed waters, but it does object to a segmented line China uses to define its claims since this overlaps Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone north of the Natunas. AFP/JAKARTA GLOBE

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