Australia, Indonesia seek to patch up over tension

SYDNEY/JAKARTA: Indonesia and Australia sought to calm tensions on Thursday after Indonesia’s military suspended ties because of “insulting” teaching material found at an Australian base that questioned Jakarta’s sovereignty in Papua province.
Papua, where a separatist movement has simmered for decades, is a sensitive issue for Indonesia, which took over the former Dutch colony after a widely criticised UN-backed referendum in 1969.
Australian Defence Minister Marise Payne expressed regrets and promised a thorough investigation of the row, which highlighted the sometimes prickly relationship between the neighbours.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo said ties with Australia were “still in a fine condition” and that his defence minister and military chief had been asked to investigate.
“We have agreed, Indonesia, Australia, to respect each other, to value each other and not meddle in each other’s domestic affairs,” Widodo said.
Military cooperation between the two countries ranges from countertenors programmes to border protection.
But the neighbours have had a rocky military relationship in recent years. Australia stopped joint training exercises with Indonesian special forces (Kopassus) after accusations of abuses by the unit in East Timor in 1999, as the territory prepared for independence.
Ties resumed when counter-terrorism cooperation became imperative after the 2002 nightclub bombings on the resort island of Bali that killed 202 people, including 88 Australians.
Australia’s defence minister said an investigation into the teaching materials, found at Campbell Barracks in the west Australian city of Perth, would be concluded “imminently”. “We have indicated our regret that this occurred and that offence was taken. I think that’s appropriate when a significant counterpart raises their concerns with you,” Payne told reporters in Sydney. Australia would present the findings of the report to Indonesia’s government and military, Payne said.
She denied allegations, reportedly made by Indonesia’s Armed Forces Chief Gatot Nurmantyo in a lecture last year, that Australia had tried to recruit Indonesian soldiers as agents during training.
Gatot said on Thursday that “unethical” teaching material had been found by an Indonesian officer who had been sent to Australia to teach. The material “discredited the Indonesian military (TNI), the nation of Indonesia and even the ideology of Indonesia,” he said, referring to material concerning East Timor and “Papua needing to be independent”, as well as mocking the country’s founding principles, known as Pancasila.
“That curriculum had been used for a long time,” he said, noting it had now been removed. — Reuters