Subject: Australia, Indonesia Hold 1st Military Exercise For 6 Yrs

Australia, Indonesia Hold 1st Military Exercise For 6 Yrs

CANBERRA, April 12 (AP)--The Indonesian and Australian air forces have launched their first joint military exercise since relations between the two countries plummeted over Jakarta-sponsored violence in East Timor nearly six years ago, the government said Wednesday.

Indonesia scrapped a defense treaty with Canberra when Australia led a U.N. military force against pro-Jakarta militias who razed East Timor and killed up to 1,000 people after the Indonesian province voted for independence. All joint military training was canceled.

But relations have been on the mend in recent years, with both sides working closely together after the 2002 Bali bombings and the December tsunami.

Last week, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono signed an agreement to create a new security pact when he made his first official trip to Australia.

As part of the agreement, Prime Minister John Howard guaranteed Australia would not support secessionists in the provinces of Aceh and West Papua.

Defense Minister Robert Hill said Wednesday the joint air force exercise which began Tuesday reflected the renewed commitment between the two countries to strengthen their defense relations.

"Exercise Albatros Ausindo is a further opportunity to build the relationship and it demonstrates the cooperation and our shared commitment to maritime security," Hill said in a statement, adding that both sides would look for ways to deepen their military ties.

The exercise involves maritime surveillance conducted by an Indonesian Air Force B737 Surveiller aircraft and a Royal Australian Air Force AP-3C Orion and will run until the end of the week. The exercise was last conducted in 1998.

The Indonesian navy will participate in a regional defense exercise in northern Australian waters in August, Hill said.

A joint naval exercise between Indonesia and Australia involving patrol boats was also being considered for later this year, he said.

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