The legal responsibility for Indonesia's environment continued to be a matter of controversy in the early 1990s. Among the continuing concerns were those expressed in 1982 during the UN Conference on the Law of the Sea. In this conference, Indonesia sought to defend its March 1980 claim to a 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone. Based on the doctrine of the political and security unity of archipelagic land and sea space (wawasan nusantara), the government asserted its rights to marine and geological resources within this coastal zone. In all, the area claimed the government, including the exclusive economic zone, was 7.9 million square kilometers. Indonesia also claimed as its territory all sea areas within a maritime belt of twelve nautical miles of the outer perimeter of its islands. All straits, bays, and waters within this belt were considered inland seas by the government and amounted to around 93,000 square kilometers. The Strait of Malacca--one of the most heavily traveled sea-lanes in the world--was considered by Indonesia and Malaysia to be their joint possession, and the two countries requested that other nations notify their governments before moving warships through these waters. The United States and several other nations rejected those claims, considering the strait an international waterway.
During the 1980s and early 1990s, Indonesia was involved in territorial disputes. One controversy concerned Indonesia's annexation of the former colony of Portuguese Timor as Timor Timur Province in 1976, an action which came under protest in the UN and among human rights activists.
Another dispute involved Indonesia's conflict with Australia over rights to the continental shelf off the coast of Timor. This problem was resolved in 1991 by a bilateral agreement calling for joint economic exploitation of the disputed area in the so-called "Timor Gap." Still other controversies arose regarding overflight rights in Irian Jaya (disputed with Papua New Guinea) and conflicting claims to the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea by Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam. Indonesia played the role of mediator in the Spratly Islands controversy.
Even as Indonesia extended its claim to territory, international environmental groups were pressing Jakarta to accept environmental responsibility for those territories. Indonesia was encouraged to monitor pollution in its territorial waters and take legal action to prevent the destruction of its rain forests. Since the late 1960s, the government addressed increasing environmental problems by establishing resource management programs, conducting environmental impact analyses, developing better policy enforcement, and enacting appropriate laws to give government officials proper authority. Despite these efforts, overlapping competencies among government departments and legal uncertainties about which department had what authority slowed progress made against environmental degradation.
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