Indonesia may ban granite exports in S’pore row

12 Mar 07

Indonesia is considering banning granite chip exports, the country’s foreign miniser said on Monday, amid a dispute with Singapore over Jakarta’s moves to stop exporting sand vital to the island’s construction industry.

Indonesian authorities detained 24 tugboats and barges carrying granite chips to Singapore this month, just weeks after Jakarta banned all sand exports to the city-state, souring ties between the Southeast Asian neighbours.

Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda told reporters no ban on granite exports was in place but “discussions on the possibility of banning exports of granite chips are ongoing”.

Singapore has criticised Indonesia for reportedly using the sand export ban to pressure it into negotiations on an extradition treaty and border delineation.

However, Indonesia said the ban had been prompted by environmental concerns and not by negotiations with Singapore.

“It is our right as a sovereign nation to ban sand exports for the sake of environmental protection,” Wirajuda told reporters.

The Indonesian navy has urged the government to ban granite exports, Antara news agency has reported.

Excessive granite mining has caused environmental damage in islands such as Bintan and Karimun, which are close to Singapore, Antara said.

Singapore’s construction sector is booming after years in the doldrums, although the ban on Indonesian sand has made investors worry that the recovery might be halted by tight sand supplies.

Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo said last week that bilateral relation had been “improving until recently”, and that it was unclear to Singapore what had sparked the diplomatic spat.

“From time to time, we must expect countries to pressure us in the hope that we will then give way to their demands,” Yeo said. “Singaporeans know that if we give in to such pressures, we would only invite more such pressures.”

Indonesia and Singapore have had occasional diplomatic spats.

Former Indonesian president B.J. Habibie once called Singapore an “unfriendly little red dot”.

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