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. Sand Latest Irritant In Singapore Regional Ties

Sand - Indonesia has it, and Singapore needs it.
by Martin Abbugao
Singapore (AFP) Feb 14, 2007
Simple grains of sand have become the latest irritant in Singapore's sometimes choppy ties with its neighbours. Indonesia last month jolted the tiny city-state by banning the export of sand, a basic construction material, just as Singapore's construction sector rebounds on strong demand for high-end apartments and the building of two multi-billion-dollar casino complexes.

Indonesia's move highlighted Singapore's sometimes strained links with its larger neighbours as well as its dependence on other countries for water, fresh vegetables and some other basic necessities, analysts said.

The island republic has virtually no natural resources of its own.

"It is a simple item that nobody appreciated, but it has very serious implications to the overall situation (in the property market)," said Winston Liew, a senior analyst with OCBC Investment Research.

"Sand is a basic construction material needed for any building.... If there is an impediment for you to get your basic material, you can potentially delay your construction, you can potentially have developers not being able to deliver on schedule and on budget."

But Minister for National Development Mah Bow Tan said the impact of Indonesia's move would be limited.

Jakarta imposed the ban on sand excavated from land last month but gave contractors until February 5 to honour existing contracts. Land sand is an ingredient for the concrete used in buildings.

The latest prohibition followed Indonesia's February 2003 ban on the export to Singapore of sea sand used for land reclamation.

Most of the sand exports to Singapore are taken from Indonesia's Riau islands near the city-state.

"The whole sand episode does seem to indicate Singapore's vulnerabilities in terms of its dependence on neighbouring countries for some basic necessities," said defence studies specialist Andrew Tan.

"However, sand is not a strategic or valuable commodity like oil, nor is it a basic necessity such as fresh food and water. As such, there are no direct security implications," said Tan, an associate professor at the University of New South Wales in Singapore.

Still, sand has become an irritant in bilateral ties, which have greatly improved since Singapore mobilised its armed forces to help in a massive humanitarian relief operation following the tsunami disaster in Indonesia's Aceh province in December 2004.

The Jakarta Post on February 7 reported that Indonesia sent eight warships to monitor the border waters with Singapore and enforce the sand ban.

Indonesian officials worry that massive sand quarrying could lead to the disappearance of small outlying islands and as the maritime borders erode, Indonesia's territory and exclusive economic zone could also shrink.

The ban has led to economic dislocation in Indonesia, where thousands depend on sand quarrying for a living.

About 3,000 sand miners would be affected and 24 sand exporters planned to file a lawsuit against the government, The Jakarta Post quoted a sand exporters' association as saying.

Indonesian officials have reportedly set aside 92,000 dollars to help train the sand miners to become fishermen or grow seaweed.

National development minister Mah said Monday that Singapore was disappointed with the ban. He told parliament that Indonesian claims of environmental damage and the potential impact on its boundaries "are not justified."

Singapore ministers had offered to discuss the concerns with Indonesian counterparts but "we regret that Indonesia did not take up our offer," he said.

In the meantime the city-state has tapped its own land sand stockpile to stabilise prices as it looks for other sources of the material.

Mah said the higher costs of importing sand from elsewhere could push project costs up by as much as three percent.

For the long term, Singapore's construction sector aims to cut dependence on concrete by promoting the use of steel, dry walls and metal claddings. Sand may be an irritant but Tan, of the University of New South Wales, said it was unlikely the dispute would lead to a major crisis.

"In time, this issue can be resolved through negotiation. If not, Singapore will simply have to obtain sand from elsewhere," he said.

Indonesian activists back ban on sand for Singapore
Jakarta (AFP) Feb 14 - Indonesian rights and environmental groups Wednesday called on the government to maintain its ban on sand exports, the latest irritant in relations with neighbouring Singapore.

Indonesia last month banned the export of sand, which is vital for Singapore's booming construction industry and land reclamation as the island republic has virtually no natural resources of its own.

"Indonesia gets the bad end of the deal (on the trade) ... our environment is destroyed. We demand Singapore pay for the environmental rehabilitation," Hermanjaya, from Ocean Watch, told AFP.

He said sand mining in several areas, especially in the Riau islands, caused the extinction of several fish species, destruction of coral reefs and the disappearance of a number of small islands.

The environmental group said it was also worried about "news of Singapore's lobby efforts to renew their borders based on their (newly) reclaimed land."

"Singapore should sit down with Indonesia to clearly determine the border, which is still unclear," said Hermanjaya.

Indonesian foreign ministry spokesman Desra Percaya said the ban was imposed "to prevent further deterioration."

"The sand mining has created severe environmental damage to Indonesia, specially in the Sebayik and Nipah (islands)," he told AFP.

Percaya added that "the issue of the maritime boundary is not settled."

Singapore's National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan said Monday the city-state was disappointed with the ban. He told parliament that Indonesian claims of environmental damage and the potential impact on its boundaries "are not justified."

Jakarta imposed the ban on sand excavated from land last month, but gave contractors until February 5 to honour existing contracts. Land sand is an ingredient for the concrete used in buildings.

The latest prohibition followed Indonesia's February 2003 ban on the export to Singapore of sea sand used for land reclamation.

Most of the sand exports to Singapore are taken from Indonesia's Riau islands, near the city-state.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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Victims of toxic waste dumped in Ivory Coast, where thousands were poisoned and 10 died, expressed alarm Wednesday after the Dutch shipper of the residue signed a pay-off deal with the government. "This agreement was signed only with the Ivorian state, but it should also have been signed with victims' associations," Yao Pipira, a leader of a group of affected residents in the commercial capital Abidjan said.

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