US plan for naval dock in Sulawesi dismissed

A report that the United States was planning to build a naval dock for its warships in Bitung in North Sulawesi has been denied emphatically by American and Indonesian officials here.

The official Antara news agency said in a report at the weekend that an agreement had been signed between Bitung mayor Milton Kansil and American consultant Vincent Lacelly to build a 3-trillion-rupiah (S$630-million) dock to service not just US naval vessels, but also Australian, European and Japanese ships.

The dock would reportedly be ready for operations in 2005.

Indonesian officials brushed aside the report as ‘an exaggeration’.

A naval intelligence officer told The Straits Times: ‘It is very strange that an agreement can be signed on a major development without the government and military, especially the navy, not knowing a thing about it.’

A three-star army general said a project of this magnitude required the approval of parliament and the signing of any agreement that followed would involve high-level representations.

‘You don’t have a US consultant and an Indonesian mayor signing a document that has a significant bearing on national and regional security,’ he said.

Antara reported that the US had been looking for a suitable place to build the docking facility for the past 10 years.

The original plan, the report noted, was to build it in Guam but a decision was taken later to switch to Bitung.

The Straits Times understands that the US did explore several months ago the possibility of identifying locations in Indonesia to repair its naval vessels.

But sources said the idea did not get off the ground.

Diplomatic sources said the Bitung project was actually a joint venture between US and Indonesian businessmen to build a port in the area to service commercial ships.

To create a larger volume for their business, they could have floated the idea of inviting US and allied warships to use the dock.

A foreign diplomat told The Straits Times: ‘This is a commercial venture that is still in the preliminary phase. No feasibility studies have been conducted and no agreement has been signed.

‘It’s not even reached a stage where the American government has even been consulted about the plan.’

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