Subject: Reuters: Australia postpones Indonesian military exercises
Date: Thu, 29 Oct 1998 16:03:35 +1200
From: sonny inbaraj <firstname.lastname@example.org> Organization: The AustralAsian
AUSTRALIA POSTPONES INDONESIAN MILITARY EXERCISES
By Jane Nelson
CANBERRA, Oct 29 (Reuters) - Australia has postponed two major military exercises with Indonesia's special forces, Kopassus, but denied that it was due to growing evidence of human rights abuses by the elite unit.
Australian Defence Minister John Moore on Thursday said the exercises, between Australia's Special Air Services and Kopassus, had been deferred by mutual agreement and would be rescheduled.
"I have been advised that the exercises have been deferred in the light of budget cuts imposed by the Indonesian government on ABRI (Indonesia's armed forces) training," Moore said in a statement.
But an Australian newspaper report on Thursday titled "Army abandons war games" cited defence sources saying the two counter-terrorism exercises with Kopassus were cancelled because of mounting evidence of human rights abuses by the unit.
Australia is Indonesia's most important defence ally. The exercises, one in Indonesia and one in Australia, were due to take place next month.
Former Indonesian president Suharto's son-in-law, Lieutenant-General Prabowo Subianto, once head of Kopassus, was dismissed from the army in August following a probe into the abduction and torture of political activists by members of Kopassus during his command.
Evidence continues to emerge of the Indonesian army's involvement in torture, rape and mass killings of Suharto critics and a number of Kopassus officers are facing charges.
The move to cancel the exercises would have a major impact on the defence alliance, said Australian defence analyst Des Ball.
He said a severing of links with Kopassus would virtually end Australia's defence relationship with Indonesia.
"Kopassus has been at the centre of that defence relationship when it comes down to co-operation on the ground," said Ball, a defence analyst at the Australian National University.
"If Australia is trying to build up close defence relations with Indonesia, it has little choice but to co-operate closely with Kopassus because Kopassus is the principle element of ABRI," Ball told Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio.
But he added: "It (the relationship) has been fraught with dangers and with difficulties and it's time, in fact, that the relationship was severed".
The two countries signed a security agreement in December 1995, providing a broad umbrella for the conduct of the bilateral defence relationship, including exercises, ship visits, training and individual exchanges.
The United States earlier this month banned the use of U.S. weapons in the Indonesian province of East Timor because of accusations of persistent human rights abuses there by the Indonesian army.
Defence arrangements in Asia have come under increasing stress because of budget cuts and increasing political unrest in some countries caused by the regional economic crisis.
In August, Malaysia pulled out of Five-Power Defence Arrangement exercises because of its economic crisis after media reports attributed the move to a strained relationship with Singapore. Reuter, 29/10/98 15:58 AEST