ExxonMobil said Tuesday it was awaiting improved security before resuming gas production in violence-torn Aceh, where the stoppage has threatened Indonesia's billion-dollar liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports.
"We would like to resume operations as soon as possible but the decision depends on government security protection in the field," PT ExxonMobil Indonesia spokeswoman Julia Tumengkol told AFP.
"We have not yet made a decision to resume operations. Our main concern is the safety of our workers and the adjoining community." ExxonMobil halted its operations at three oil and gas fields in North Aceh -- in South Lhoksukon, Arun and Pase -- on March 9 on security grounds, citing threats from the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) separatist rebels.
GAM has been fighting for a separate Islamic state since the mid-1970s and ExxonMobil staff have been kidnapped and threatened, vehicles burned and shots fired at the company's chartered planes.
The fields, which export LNG to clients in Japan and South Korea, are a major source of export earnings for Indonesia.
The government has guaranteed its LNG export commitments will not suffer from the fields' closure, saying it will seek help from other facilities in Indonesia, and possibly Malaysia and Australia, to assure a smooth flow of LNG to its foreign customers.
But industry reports said last week that Japan's Tohoku Electric Power Company Inc. had agreed last Thursday to buy 60,000 tons of LNG on the spot market from Malaysia as an emergency measure following the closure of the Arun field.
Separately, Korea Gas Corporation said it had also decided to shift its LNG imports for April delivery to Malaysia following the closure of the Arun facility.
The company said it had signed a contract to buy 60,000 tons of LNG from Malaysia which will be shipped on April 2.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Mineral Resources, Budi Sulistyo, told AFP the government would use the next two weeks as "a test case for security conditions" in ExxonMobil's three gas fields.
"If ExxonMobil seeks absolute security, that's difficult, but we can guarantee their safety in operational areas," Sulistyo said.
On Saturday, Coordinating Minister for Political, Social and Security Affairs Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said Jakarta had deployed more than 2,000 troops to protect the huge Arun gas field.
The Jakarta Post Tuesday quoted Secretary General of the Ministry of Mineral Resources Joko Darmono as saying the government expected ExxonMobil to resume operations at the end of the two week period.
"Although there is no guarantee that after two weeks of troop deployment security problems can be settled, ExxonMobil is expected to restart its production activities on April 2," he said.
But ExxonMobil's Tumengkol said it would "not be that easy" for the company to restart operations, adding that it was "in constant consultation" with the state oil and gas company Pertamina.
She confirmed that ExxonMobil representatives had attended a four-and-a-half-hour meeting between the ministry of mineral resources and the Indonesian armed forces (TNI) on Monday to discuss conditions.
TNI spokesman Air Vice Marshal Graito Usodo was quoted by the Media Indonesia daily as saying another battalion and several armoured vehicles would be sent to reinforce security in the Arun field.
"To reinforce security, the TNI headquarters has decided to send, in the near future, another batallion and a number of armored cars to safeguard several locations," Usodo told journalists after the Monday's meeting.—AFP.
©--Agence France Presse 2001.
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)