Sebatik Island

Malaysia and Indonesia don’t seem to get along very well.

The [Bornean] border has been “moved” in spots without the knowledge of the authorities. According to Padi Indonesia, a forest protection organization, at least three national border markers were found to have been shifted up to 10 kilometers into the Indonesian side of the border in East Kalimantan province. Malaysian logging companies had “expanded” the Malaysian territory.

The Indonesian soldiers took bribes and looked the other way, according to rumor.


Sea territory disputes are just as intense as land claims. In waters east of Sebatik Island is the Ambalat region, center of a dispute between Indonesia and Malaysia in March. The area has crude oil deposits.

Malaysia gave international oil companies the go-ahead to explore the oil and gas fields there. Indonesia deployed warships and fighter jets to put a halt to the move.

Sebatik Island itself, however, seems to be free of dispute.

All 4,000 residents of the village have Indonesian nationality, and they are all Indonesian taxpayers. Administrative services are provided by Indonesia.

Sebatik Island sits just off the northeastern coast of Borneo on the Celebes Sea. And like Borneo, it is split between Indonesia and Malaysia along a border set by the Dutch and the British.

The border runs east-west across the northern end of the village, which began to expand in the late 1980s as logging operations increased.

Of about 1,000 households in the village, 20 straddle the border. The rest are mostly in Indonesian territory.


The border patrol is a relaxed group. The day I visited, Indonesian soldiers were napping at the border station, which was set up three years ago. There were no guards on the Malaysian side. There is no immigration office, no customs house, no barbed wire fence, no walls.

The only evidence of a border are the concrete piles buried every kilometer from east to west. Many are covered by dirt.

The island is an anomaly that can be easily explained.

“The difference between Sebatik Island and the (disputed) sea area? Everything depends on whether there are natural resources. We have plenty of potential flare-up areas,” an Indonesian official said.