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Linking Indonesian sand ban to extradition treaty unfortunate: Yeo

Channel NewsAsia 13 Feb 07
By Pearl Forss

SINGAPORE : Indonesia's ban on sand exports to Singapore was one of the key concerns in Parliament on Monday.

Members of Parliament were keen to find out about the impact of the ban on the construction industry and Singapore's relations with Indonesia.

In his reply, Foreign Affairs Minister George Yeo said linking the sand ban to the extradition treaty being sought by Indonesia and border talks would be unfortunate and counterproductive.

Singapore will soon fix the price of sand used in its booming construction sector at S$25 per tonne to ensure stable prices, after Indonesia banned all sand exports to the island last month.

Most construction activities are back to normal except for a few cases where the contractors, developers and suppliers cannot agree on the price of concrete. Sand is one of the main raw materials in concrete.

Industry sources have said that the price of ready mixed concrete has increased 50 percent and some are wondering if suppliers are profiteering from the sand ban. The government said it could not fix the price of ready mixed concrete but it would step in to help in negotiations if necessary.

But Members of Parliament were still concerned about whether the ban has wider ramifications.

West Coast GRC MP Ho Geok Choo wondered if the ban was a result of the politics of envy, and Singapore's neighbours becoming insecure as Singapore's economy charges ahead.

Tampines GRC's Irene Ng asked if the Indonesian government was using sand as a pressure point in its negotiations for an extradition treaty.

Indonesia has linked the sand ban to ongoing border talks and an extradition treaty it is seeking with Singapore. This remark came from Vice-Admiral Djoko Sumaryono, the head of the maritime security coordinating board, who was quoted by the Jakarta Post earlier in the month.

But Foreign Affairs Minister George Yeo said it was counterproductive to make such a connection. He said, "Our border limitation talks are complicated enough; if there is additional linkage, it will only make the talk more difficult. As for the extradition treaty, Prime Minister Lee and President Yudhoyono had already agreed in a meeting in Bali on 3rd October 2005 that the extradition treaty and the defence cooperation agreement should be linked together and negotiated in parallel as one package.

"The talks have made good progress although there are still a few issues to overcome. Singapore hopes that both agreements as a package could be concluded early."

The extradition treaty has been a sticking point in bilateral relations between Singapore and Indonesia for nearly a decade.

Some quarters in Indonesia allege that corrupt businessmen and politicians are hiding and putting their illegal gains in Singapore, hence the need for an extradition treaty.

But Mr Yeo said many of these comments were connected with Indonesia's domestic politics and Singapore does not want to be involved.

He said, "...One reason why the extradition treaty is not easy to negotiate is because if they make a case for someone to be extradited from Singapore, then a cause of defence will be whether proper procedures were observed in Indonesia, which means that, inevitably, a judge in Singapore will have to examine the conduct of their police and judges. The last thing we want is for the extradition treaty to complicate further all bilateral relations with them."

Mr Yeo also said Singapore's land reclamation works did not affect its existing maritime boundaries with Indonesia.

Singapore's existing maritime boundaries with Indonesia have been settled in a 1973 agreement. With Malaysia, maritime boundaries were settled in a 1995 agreement.

However, there are some waters near the common junctions between Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore that have not yet been demarcated and will have to be done through negotiations. - CNA/ms