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O’Neill tones down rhetoric over fighter jet incident

By Isaac Nicholas PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, Jan. 9, 2012) – In Papua New Guinea (PNG), Prime Minister Peter O’Neill has reassured Jakarta that his government has no intention of expelling the Indonesian ambassador or closing the Indonesian embassy in Port Moresby over the Nov 29 Falcon jet incident over Indonesian airspace.

In direct contrast to his deputy Belden Namah’s 48-hour ultimatum last Friday which included recalling PNG embassy staff in Jakarta, O’Neill said yesterday that he was satisfied with the Indonesian government response to the mid-air incident involving the Air Niugini Falcon jet.

In a statement, he also reassured Indonesia of maintaining diplomatic relations.

O’Neill said he was satisfied with Indonesia’s immediate formal response on Saturday to the Falcon being tracked by two Indonesian air force combat aircraft on Nov 29 while en route home from Malaysia.

The government formally protested diplomatically to Indonesia last Friday.

The aircraft was on a private charter, not official mission, he added.

O’Neill accepted and thanked the Indonesian government for its high-level explanation that the incident arose out of a "discrepancy of the original flight clearance authority" issued by the Indonesian government for the Falcon aircraft.

According to the Indonesian government, the approval for the Falcon jet to use Indonesian airspace was for the period Dec 3-17 and not Nov 29, the day of the incident.

The Indonesian government was carrying out further investigations internally to verify if there was any formal approval granted for the Falcon Jet to use Indonesian airspace on Nov 29.

O’Neill said Jakarta further explained that its air force aircraft engagement with the Falcon jet was to "visually identify the aircraft and followed both their strict domestic standard operating procedures and normal international aviation practices" that deal with such situations.

When it was established that the aircraft belong to the PNG Government, the Indonesian fighter jets retreated, he said.

[PIR editor’s note: Radio Australia reports Deputy Prime Minister Belden Namah has called on the Prime Minister to resign for not supporting him over his threats to expel the Indonesian Ambassador after the jet he was on along with a few government officials nearly collided with an Indonesian military aircraft.]

O’Neill was reassured that there was "never any ill-intention or threat posed to the Falcon jet and its passengers and flight crew by the Indonesian fighter aircraft.

He described the incident was most unfortunate and directed relevant authorities, including Air Niugini and Civil Aviation Authority, to carry out further internal investigations on the flight clearance arrangements for the Falcon flight and to ensure that such incidents are not repeated.

"All international civil aviation rules and regulations must be upheld at all times for any international flights by PNG aircraft."

O’Neill reiterated that it was vital that both PNG and Indonesia continue to maintain diplomatic presence and dialogue in the respective capitals as they strengthen existing bilateral cooperation.

"As close and friendly neighbours in the Asia Pacific region, it is in both our interest to ensure that the bilateral ties build on solid foundations that have already been laid, over the years need to be safeguarded and sustained."

He also directed that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade solely take charge of this important bilateral matter with Indonesia.

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