Djemi Amnifu and Ni Komang Erviani, Kupang/Denpasar – Indonesian authorities have called on the Timor Leste government to immediately relocate the latter's citizens from a disputed border area between the two countries following Indonesia's discovery of illegal activities in the region that was thought to be uninhabited.
Ninth regional military command (Kodam IX) Udayana commander Maj. Gen. M. Setyo Sularso said that his personnel had recently discovered 53 Timor Leste families illegally living in a border area between Noel Besi in Kupang regency, East Nusa Tenggara (NTT) and Citrana in Timor Leste.
Timor Leste, according to Setyo, has also built a number of government buildings in the 1,000-hectare area whose jurisdiction status remained an unresolved issue between Indonesia and Timor Leste.
"As an unresolved [border] region, the area must be empty. Such actions have violated our [bilateral] agreement," Setyo said in Denpasar earlier this week.
Indonesia and Timor Leste have been negotiating border issues since 2002, soon after the latter formalized its independence from Indonesia following a UN-supervised referendum held in 1999. By 2013, Indonesia and Timor Leste had agreed on more than 900 coordinates as border points, but two land border areas, Noel Besi – Citrana and Bijael Sunan – Oben, remain unresolved.
"We have regularly conducted patrol to guard the areas, but they [Timor Leste] have never been willing to do the same. I suspect that the people who have been living in the unpopulated area are actually a part of their strategy," he said, citing a similar tactic used by Malaysia to win a dispute with Indonesia over the status of Sipadan and Ligitan islands in 2002.
Kodam IX Udayana is responsible for security in Bali, NTT and West Nusa Tenggara (NTB) provinces.
Separately, Kupang regency's Boundary Agency head Kain Manus claimed that residents from Ambenu, Timor Leste, had constructed at least three permanent houses in Naktuka hamlet, located within the Noel Besi – Citrana border area, since December.
"Naktuka, located in Noel Besi riverbank, has been a subject of dispute between residents of Kupang and Ambeno due to its fertile soil," he said, adding that the conflict had almost turned violent in 2013.
NTT Boundary Agency head Paulus Manehat said that while the governments of the two countries worked on settling the border dispute, the local administration would employ social and cultural approaches to prevent violence.
"We have been asking local residents not to be easily provoked [...]. They must trust the Indonesian government to handle the settlement of this problem," Paulus said.
According to Paulus, a team consisting of representatives from several government institutions, including the Foreign Ministry, Home Ministry, the Indonesian Military and the National Police had visited Noel Besi and Bijael Sunan on Dec. 29 to survey the latest developments in the disputed border areas.
Paulus said the provincial administration had always expressed its support of the immediate settlement of border issues.
"Nevertheless, Indonesian citizens in NTT and the Timor Leste people have a close relationship due to marriage or cultural background," he said.
In August last year, during the visit of Timor Leste Prime Minister Rui Maria de Araujo to Jakarta, Indonesia and Timor Leste agreed to begin negotiating unresolved land and maritime border issues and enhance bilateral ties, particularly on trade and investment.
The meeting was Araujo's first official visit since he took office in February. Araujo is the country's fifth post-independence prime minister.