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Mixed Signals On Granite Exports To S'pore

13 March 2007 (TODAY)

Quibbles over technical terms surface, while officials hint at a possible

JAKARTA - When it comes to the export of granite, nothing seems cast in
stone in Indonesia.

Several Jakarta officials yesterday hinted at a possible ban on the export
of granite to Singapore. Meanwhile, provincial authorities from the Riau
islands insisted that the exports will continue.

The issue also took a more technical twist. While the official Indonesian
stand has been that there is a ban on the export of land sand to
Singapore - and no ban on granite exports - the focus has now shifted to
granite chips.

Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda said the government was now looking into
whether the export of granite chips should continue.

His comments come in the wake of allegations by the Indonesian Navy that
13 Singapore-bound barges and tugboats that were detained were found to
have contraband sand underneath the granite shipments.

Mr Hassan said yesterday that while there was no ban on granite exports,
"discussions on the possibility of granite chips are ongoing".

"It is our right as a sovereign nation to ban sand exports for the sake of
environmental protection," Mr Hassan was quoted by Reuters as saying.

Earlier this month, Mr Hassan and Trade Minister Mari Pangestu told
Singapore that there was no export ban on granite and they would check why
the barges were detained.

Meanwhile, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle weighed in on the
issue, urging the government to take firmer actions against people found
exporting sand and granite to Singapore, Antara news agency reported. This
even though there is no ban on granite exports.

This prompted Indonesia's Environment Minister Rahmat Witoelar to say that
his ministry will study the environmental impact of granite quarrying in
the Riau islands. He said officials would determine whether granite mining
was as harmful for the environment as sand mining.

Observers say that it could indicate a step closer to a ban on granite

"We haven't banned the (granite) exports yet, but we must limit any export
of natural resources if our environment is being damaged by the mining of
these resources," Mr Rahmat told The Jakarta Post.

This contradicted his comments made in the Batam Pos last week to the
effect that the Indonesian Cabinet had already approved a granite ban and
that it would take effect soon. He later denied making those remarks,
saying he was misquoted.

Riau islands Governor Ismeth Abdullah, however, guaranteed that despite
the seizure by the Navy of a number of barges, granite exports would

"It is true that the Navy has intercepted several barges carrying granite,
but they (the barges) were not following proper procedures. We guarantee
that export activities will continue in the province, as the export of the
material is not banned. No more ships will be detained if they follow
procedures," he told the Post.

He said the Riau islands would oppose a ban on granite exports, which
would further slash provincial revenue following the central government's
ban on sand.

Indonesia has banned sand exports to all countries, a move that has
affected the construction industry in Singapore. But Singapore has found
alternative sources.

The contradictory comments coming out of Jakarta has prompted Singapore's
Ministry of Foreign Affairs to seek clarification.

Political analysts say that the latest threat is to up the ante and force
Singapore towards signing an extradition treaty, which would be a feather
in the cap for some quarters in the Indonesian government. Some Indonesian
politicians have said publicly that this was the agenda behind the sand

This despite the fact that Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono
and Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had agreed in October 2005
to negotiate the extradition treaty in tandem with a defence agreement.