Subject: New Australian military ties with Indonesia in sight

The Canberra Times December 11, 2000

New military ties with Indonesia in sight

By Lincoln Wright

The Chief of the Defence Force, Admiral Chris Barrie, might visit Jakarta by the end of next year, a development that could signal a new military relationship between Australia and Indonesia.

Australia's military and political ties with Indonesia were put on ice last year as a result of the Howard Government's decision to lead an international peacekeeping force into East Timor.

That meant the end of joint exercises and training, staple items of the once close military friendship, as well as the scrapping of the former Keating government's security treaty with Indonesia.

But after last week's joint Ministerial Forum in Canberra, when several senior Indonesian ministers discussed issues with their Australian counterparts, political ties with Indonesia might be on the mend.

In an interview with The Canberra Times, Admiral Barrie said he might consider a visit to Indonesia by the end of 2001 after a possible visit there by Defence Minister John Moore early next year.

Prime Minister John Howard also said yesterday that the 'substance and atmosphere' of the ministerial meeting in Canberra was 'excellent', although there was still a long way to go.

'Our relations are improving,' Mr Howard told the Seven Network's Sunday Sunrise program.

A fundamental tenet of Canberra's military planners is that any attack on the Australian continent would have to be staged through the Indonesian archipelago.

One of the key ideas of the new Defence White Paper - the first since 1994 - is that Indonesia remains a 'strategic shield' for Australia's security and that military ties with our biggest neighbour must be redeveloped.

A visit to Indonesia by Australia's most senior military officer would indicate that military relations, including joint training and exercises, had been developed again, albeit in a new way.

'We're building a new relationship. This is not the old thing renewed - this is a new relationship,' Admiral Barrie said.

'I see a great deal of willingness on both sides.'

A spokesman for Mr Moore said, as yet, there was no timetable for the rejuvenation of military ties with Indonesia. Moreover, a visit to Australia by Indonesia's President Abdurrahman Wahid was still an important step to get through.

Nonetheless, a visit by Admiral Barrie would signal that 'practical ties' with the Indonesian military had been restored, the spokesman said.

A Senate report into East Timor warned Australia last week against renewing such ties before Indonesia's military was reformed and the refugee situation in West Timor fixed. It said Australia could help in the reform of Indonesia's armed forces.

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