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Indonesia Suspends Military Ties with Australia

Arie Firdaus
2017-01-04
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Indonesian (left) and Australian defense officials (right) hold a bilateral meeting at the Ministry of Defense in Jakarta, March 21, 2016.
Indonesian (left) and Australian defense officials (right) hold a bilateral meeting at the Ministry of Defense in Jakarta, March 21, 2016.
AFP

Indonesia has suspended military cooperation with the Australian Defense Force (ADF) over training materials at a special forces base in Australia deemed offensive to Indonesians, authorities in Jakarta said Wednesday.

Officials with the Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI) did not go into detail about the offensive material that allegedly insulted Pancasila, Indonesia’s five founding principles.

According to news reports, a member of the Indonesian Special Forces Command serving as an instructor at an Australian army base in Perth, Western Australia, discovered the problematic training material and reported it to his superiors.

“One of the reasons is because of that (the training material),” Maj. Gen. Wuryanto, the chief spokesman for TNI, told BenarNews, when asked about the suspension.

“I cannot explain in more detail. It’s essentially a technical issue,” Wuryanto said. “Bilateral cooperation should be mutually beneficial and mutually respectful.”

The indefinite suspension in military cooperation covers education, exchange programs, joint exercises and reciprocal visits by military officials, he added.

The neighboring countries are partners in countering terrorism and have engaged for years in programs of bilateral military cooperation, but sometimes they have been embroiled in disagreements such as over Indonesia’s policy of executing convicted drug offenders.

When questioned about the suspension, Indonesian Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu said he would meet with his Australian counterpart in late January in Bogor, West Java, to discuss the issue.

According to Ryamizard, the ADF has disciplined an Australian lieutenant who served as an instructor at the army base and who gave lectures allegedly containing the offensive material.

“(He has) been reprimanded, punished,” Ryamizard said, as quoted by Kompas.com.

His Australian counterpart, Marise Payne, issued a statement saying that Australia was working to iron out the issue and mend defense relations with Indonesia.

“The Australian military sees this as a serious problem,” Defense Minister Payne said.

Not the first time

On Dec. 29, TNI chief Gen. Gatot Nurmantyo sent a telegram to Air Chief Marshal Mark Donald Binskin, the head of the ADF, notifying him about the decision to suspend military ties.

This is not the first time that Indonesia has taken such action against Australia.

In 2013, Jakarta suspended bilateral military ties after it was revealed that the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) had tapped the phones of then-Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. The spying was uncovered from one of thousands of documents leaked by Edward Snowden, a former contractor for the U.S. National Security Agency.

The rift was eased after the Indonesian and Australian foreign ministers signed a code of conduct on espionage in Bali in 2014.

‘Firm decision’

An Indonesian lawmaker who oversees defense and foreign affairs, Abdul Kharis, said the House of Representatives would question Gatot about the matter on Jan. 10.

“I appreciate the firm decision of the Indonesian military,” he told BenarNews. “Do not let this disturb bilateral relations.”

Meanwhile, the spokesman for President Joko Widodo said the decision was a unilateral one taken by the Indonesian military.

“This was not the decision of the president,” spokesman Johan Budi told BenarNews.

Wuryanto declined to comment on the response from the presidential spokesman.

Observers commented on the issue.

TNI did the right thing because Indonesia should not depend militarily on its southern neighbor, according to Muradi, an Indonesian academic and expert on military affairs.

“So, the government’s decision is correct. It is the right step to maintain the dignity of the nation. Otherwise, they can do more than this.”

Al Araf, a security analyst from Impartial, a Jakarta-based NGO, suggested that Indonesia had taken the decision in a hurry.

In his view, the government must investigate the matter in order to prove that things deemed as insults to Indonesians were said.

“Let’s not make a mistake that causes an excessive reaction,” Al Araf told BenarNews.

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