Subject: Australia: Defence chief urges close military ties with Indonesia

Radio Australia Sept. 28, 2005 -transcript-

Australia: Defence chief urges close military ties with Indonesia

Australia's new Defence Force Chief has made it clear he wants Australia to have strong defence ties with Indonesia.

It hasn't impressed human rights groups in Indonesia who say abuses by the military are continuing and Australia should be placing more conditions on cooperation between the defence forces of the two countries.

DONALD: Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston has made his first public speech since taking over defence's top job.

The softly spoken new Chief was quizzed about how long 450 Australian troops will remain in Southern Iraq - guarding a Japanese engineering contingent in Al Muthanna province.

HOUSTON: I would anticipate we will be out of Al Muthanna by May next year, but having said that it's not my decision, it's a decision for government. And I would anticipate that we will have a close look at the conditions and the circumstances further downstream.

DONALD: He was also asked about Australia's defence ties with Indonesia. Last week the U-S Commander in Pacific said he'd like America to resume its defence relationship with Indonesia, arguing the Indonesian military has improved its record on human rights. For his part Angus Houston says Australia's co-operation with its neighbour is already well back on track.

HOUSTON: I think the tsunami created circumstances where we were able to respond very quickly to the requirements that they had of neighbours and friends and we were very quick to go in there, and as a consequence of that the relationship between the senior people in our organisation, the single service chiefs, myself and General Sutarto is probably as good as it's ever been.

DONALD: The Australian Defence Chief says he's already met Indonesia's General Sutarto twice -- and wants the closeness to continue:

HOUSTON: In terms of the sort of cooperation we seem to be returning to the sorts of activities that were typical of the era before 1999 and activities like Albatross Osindo,0 the naval exercise Kakadu, the Indonesians have been very much before there and they've also been very active in engaging us in the counter-terrorist field as well. So it's been very positive and there are no problems in any part of the relationship at this time.

DONALD: But the response from human rights groups in Indonesia is, hold it right there.

Rafendi Djamin is the co-ordinator of Indonesia's Human Rights Working Group - a coalition of non-government organisations.

He says human rights abuses against the East Timorese have largely gone unpunished -- and the Indonesian military is still involved in abuses in areas including the province of Papua.

DJAMIN: There has been a lot of victims, some of them have died, some of them are victim of torture and I would say that the worry is that this violation which is perpetrated by military forces can still go on.

DONALD: He argues Australia should be demanding more from Indonesia on human rights before the defence relationship gets back into full swing.

DJAMIN: At least in the term of reference or in the Memorandum of Understanding of this cooperation that there is a kind of a concrete plan of action from the Indonesian Government or Indonesian military side that the initial reform, within the military, within the security sect which actually started in 2000 it has to be really implemented. Without doing this, without looking at this, then it will really become very counter productive for the whole stability in Indonesia and democracy in Indonesia.

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