Subject: Indonesian minister says military rift could be fixed

The Canberra Times November 29, 2001

Indonesian minister says military rift could be fixed


Australia's military relationship with Indonesia could be restored soon, and a regional agreement reached on how to control people smuggling, according to visiting Indonesian Foreign Minister, Dr Hassan Wirajuda.

Dr Wirajuda, who held talks with Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer in Canberra yesterday, said there had been two meetings to discuss restored defence ties so far, one in Bali and the other in Canberra.

Australia had put its defence relationship on hold after the Indonesian-backed militias went on a rampage in East Timor after the August 1999 ballot.

The United States has indicated recently that it would be prepared to restore military ties so long as the soldiers involved in the East Timor violence of 1999 were brought to justice.

Dr Wirajuda also made it clear that people smuggling was not a bilateral problem between Australia and Indonesia, and that Indonesia had taken the initiative to hold a regional conference on the matter.

The number of refugees from Afghanistan seemed to be "receding". Many now had the option to go back home, Dr Wirajuda said.

Prime Minister John Howard visited Jakarta to meet President Megawati Sukarnoputri in August, but relations between Australia and Indonesia have been rocky since the East Timor intervention.

During the recent Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting, Mr Howard could not arrange a private meeting with Ms Megawati and she did not return his phone calls during the Tampa crisis.

Mr Downer welcomed Indonesia's decision to create a task force on people smuggling, which was an issue for the whole of the region. Australia was not asking Indonesia to sign a piece of paper on just how to deal with people smugglers. The aim was to build cooperation.

"During the course of these talks today we've been able to consolidate the cooperation between our two countries . . . I don't think one should ever underestimate how difficult this is," Mr Downer said.

"Slow progress is being made. There are some signs now that numbers coming through are declining. These people come from a variety of different countries."

A regional approach to people smuggling was likely to be the most effective, he said.

Mr Downer had also discussed the situation in Irian Jaya with Dr Wirajuda, saying he had raised the issue of the death of Theys Eluay, the Irian Jaya independence leader, who some say was murdered by the Indonesian military. Dr Wirajuda said an investigation was under way into Mr Eluay's death.

Mr Downer had reassured Dr Wirajuda that Australia supported Indonesia's sovereignty over West Irian and its plans to provide special autonomy to the provincial Government there.

Dr Wirajuda last visited Australia six years ago.

After meeting Defence Minister Robert Hill last night, he will meet Mr Howard in Sydney today, where the possibility of him visiting Indonesia again will be raised.

Indonesia, Australia and East Timor will also hold a trilateral consultation early next year. Mr Downer hosted a visit to Adelaide by East Timor's Foreign Minister Jose Ramos Horta this week.

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