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Indonesia dismisses criticism of sand export ban

Jakarta Post 13 Feb 07
Abdul Khalik

Jakarta: Indonesia on Monday rejected Singapore's accusation that the ban on sand exports to the city-state was unnecessary, replying that Indonesia had good reason to impose the ban and that such attacks were unjustified.

"We have very strong reasons to ban sand exports to any country, including Singapore," Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman Desra Percaya said.

Desra, who is also the ministry director for international security and disarmament, said the sand mining had caused very severe environmental damage in many Indonesian islands, including in Sebayik and Nipah islands.

A high-ranking official at the ministry said that sand mining had deteriorated areas of Indonesia's outer islands, threatening to narrow the nation's territory. The official, who asked for anonymity, added that since some parts of the Indonesia-Singapore border were still in dispute, the mining, which is often in these areas, could cause Indonesia to lose the basis for some territorial claims.

Indonesia's ban on the export of sand took effect last week, and applied to all states. But Singapore was hit hardest by the ban.

The nation has been by far the largest importer of Indonesian sand, for use on its ongoing land reclamation projects. The ban sent shares in the nation's construction companies plummeting amid speculation they would have to import concrete sand from more expensive sources.

Singaporean ministers promptly responded to the ban, saying Indonesia had no grounds for banning sand exports to the country.

Singapore's National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan told the nation's Parliament on Monday that the ban was unjustified, and that the price of the exports was already supposed to have factored in the cost of environmental degradation.

"Based on what we know, the Indonesian sand suppliers who are licensed by the Indonesian government are obliged to plow some of their proceeds ... into environmental reconstruction, and that is built into the price of the sand," he told The Associated Press.

Mah also said it was regrettable that Indonesia did not take up Singapore's offers to assist in addressing environmental concerns over sand mining before imposing the ban.

Foreign Minister George Yeo also disputed Indonesia's claims the ban was imposed to protect the sprawling archipelago's national border. "It is not possible for Indonesia's export of land sand to affect its maritime boundaries," Yeo was quoted as saying by AP in the same Parliament session.

"According to our contractors who imported the land sand from Indonesia, the sources of their Indonesian suppliers were from inland locations away from the border islands of Indonesia," Yeo said.

Singapore's building authority on Jan. 31 said it would release concreting sand from its stockpile to make up for shortfalls caused by the ban. Mah said that sand from alternative sources was expected to be more expensive due to higher transportation costs, and said it would only increase the overall cost of project development by a "manageable" one to three percent.