Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Proposal to Build Train Track Through Borneo

March 3, 2009 The Jakarta Globe


Markus Junianto Sihaloho

The Defense Ministry on Monday proposed that the government build a railway track along the border between Indonesia and Malaysia on Borneo island to develop the area economically and prevent border encroachment.

Brig. Gen. Syaiful Anwar, the ministry’s director of international cooperation, said the Transportation Ministry had already given its backing for the construction of a 2,000 kilometer-long track running from west to east along the border in Kalimantan.

Syaiful claimed that the project’s costs would be relatively low as the Transportation Ministry would use old railway tracks and locomotives from Java Island.

“Now we only need a political commitment from the central government, plus support from the local governments [in Kalimantan]. That is our move to accelerate the plan [to develop the Kalimantan border],” Syaiful said.

Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono has said that other government ministries should work with his to help shape a proposal to develop the economic zones along the border region between Malaysia and Kalimantan.

Juwono called economic development in the region “a nonmilitary deterrent to any encroachment on Indonesian territory,” citing threats to Indonesia’s sovereignty as one of the reasons behind the plan. There have been several reports of alleged border encroachment on Borneo in recent years.

The minister said he has already drawn up a draft of the plan, which calls for the building of plantations and new roads in addition to the “economic zones” along the border, and was now looking for support from other government departments.

However, Indonesia has also signed joint declaration with Brunei Darussalam and Malaysia in 2007 to manage the conservation of more than 220,000 square kilometers of equatorial rainforests in the heart of the island.

WWF, the environmental group that led the Heart of Borneo initiative, has called the region “the most important center of biological diversity in the world” as it is home to endangered animals such as orangutans, forest elephants and rhinos.

Syaiful added that the government was also considering establishing an independent body specially tasked with managing border issues. He said that currently 20 governmental ministries were involved in border management, but that a lack of coordination was hampering development of the border areas.

However, Syaiful said that there were also concerns about the personnel involved in border management. “It is not enough for the government to just decide to establish new independent body for border management, we also need to prepare the human resources.”