Indonesia cautious over Singapore spy claims

Indonesia cautious over Singapore spy claims
Profile picture of K. Shanmugam.

JAKARTA - The government appears to be cautious in dealing with allegations that neighboring Singapore was involved in US-led surveillance operations in the region, including on Indonesia.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Michael Tene said on Friday that Indonesia would follow the development regarding the spying claims against Singapore, but no firm decisions had been made as yet.

He said the Indonesian ambassador to Singapore had asked for clarification from the city-state and was ensured that the allegations were baseless. "I cannot say what our next step will be as it is the only update. We are still following the progress," he said.

On Friday, Singapore made clear that the city-state would not be drawn into confirming or denying allegations that it was part of a US-led electronic spying network in Asia, AFP reported.

Singaporean Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam said at a forum that neighbors Indonesia and Malaysia, which summoned Singapore's envoys this week over reports that such a network existed, were aware that the city-state had no intention of harming relations.

"You cannot say this is 5 percent true or 95 percent true, that we work with the Americans and Australians on this aspect of counterterrorism but not this aspect," he said in comments carried by the Straits Times website.

The ensuing back-and-forth on any Singapore statement on specific intelligence issues would be "never-ending", he said. "The point is that the Indonesians and Malaysians know that we won't do anything to harm their interests," he said at a forum hosted by the newspaper.

Singapore's stance regarding the snooping allegations is similar to that of Australia, which also refused to confirm or deny them.

Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa has said that Indonesia would discuss the spy claims against Singapore and South Korea, which are part of the "Five Eyes" intelligence partners, including the United States and Australia, based on documents from US intelligence whistle-blower Edward Snowden.

"We will discuss it later; we are now focusing on the problem with Australia," the minister said following a hearing with House of Representatives Commission I on foreign affairs on Thursday.

Several legislators have raised concerns over Singapore's alleged complicity in the spying operations as Indonesia still relied on communication equipment controlled by the neighboring country.

Australia's Sydney Morning Herald reported that access to the major international telecommunications channel, facilitated by Singapore's government-owned operator SingTel, had been a key element in an expansion of Australian-Singaporean intelligence and defense ties over the past 15 years.

SingTel holds 35 percent shares in Indonesia's biggest cellular operator PT Telkomsel, which is 65 percent owned by state-run telecommunication company PT Telkom.

Communication and Information Ministry spokesperson Gatot Dewa Broto said nine cellular operators had submitted their internal investigation findings over the wiretapping allegations to the ministry on Thursday.

"The documents leaked by Snowden mentioned the role of SingTel, which has shares in Telkomsel. However, we can't yet tell the extent of involvement [of Telkomsel], if any, because we haven't finished evaluating the internal findings," Gatot said. "However, we will surely take note of Snowden's statement."

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