Indonesian gov't pursuing diplomacy to free hostages

13:45, April 12, 2011      

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Indonesia is opting to stick to diplomacy and negotiations, and is refraining from a rescue mission, in an attempt to free 20 Indonesian sailors held hostage by Somali pirates, local media reported on Tuesday.

"All options are possible, but we prioritized the hostages' safety," Indonesian Military (TNI) chief Adm. Agus Suhartono said in Jakarta on Monday.

He added that India had offered to assist in a rescue mission, but the government decided against it from fears it would instead threaten the safety of the hostages.

The government decided in the meantime to do as the captain of the seized, Indonesian-flagged vessel, Sinar Kudus, had requested and pursue diplomatic measures, Agus was quoted by the Jakarta Post as saying.

He refused to comment on whether or not the TNI had sent a rescue mission into Somali waters, where the ship and crew were taken hostage en route from Indonesia to Rotterdam, the Netherlands, to deliver ferronickel belonging to state mining company PT Aneka Tambang.

"The TNI is continuously following the development of the situation, but there are things I cannot share," Agus said.

Separately, Indonesian Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Djoko Suyanto said that, so far, the government could only negotiate with the pirates through the ship owner, local shipping company PT Samudera Indonesia.

He also said negotiations were still revolving around the ransom amount, with the pirates demanding 3.5 million US dollars to free the hostages in the latest development.

Djoko said the ransom would be covered by an insurance company as the ship was insured.

"But, that doesn't mean the government is putting off our responsibility. The government will continue to work hard to help rescue the ship in Somalia," he said at a press conference in the Presidential Office in Jakarta.

Djoko added that the government was preparing "other options" if the negotiations failed, but refused to specify.

He also said among the negotiation problems were the pirates' " moods", which could impact their demands in exchange for the hostages' freedom.

"We deal with a syndicate, a mafia, a very organized group of people. We don't know their moods because we can only communicate via radio and email."

Djoko said President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had ordered that the negotiations be carried out "smartly and carefully" during a recent meeting on the issue with the defense minister and the State Intelligence Agency head, among others.

He added that the ship owner had gathered the hostages' families in Jakarta and informed them of the developments in the situation, including the conditions of the crew, to ease their worries. Meanwhile, Samudera Indonesia vice president director David Batubara said the Somali pirates were also holding hostages of 10 other ships in addition to the Sinar Kudus. He said it could take up to 150 days to free the hostages, citing the experiences of other shipping companies whose vessels had been held hostage by Somali pirates.

"Sixty days are the quickest. The pirates have currently held the Sinar Kudus for 27 days," he said.

Source: Xinhua
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