Indonesia suspends military ties with Australia

Australian and Indonesian soldiers train in Tully, Australia on Oct 10, 2014.
Australian and Indonesian soldiers train in Tully, Australia on Oct 10, 2014. PHOTO: NYTIMES

Training materials used during joint drills allegedly disparage Indonesian armed forces

Indonesia has suspended all military cooperation with Australia, reportedly after one of its soldiers took offence at training materials that surfaced during a joint exercise in Perth last month.

The move comes on the back of improved bilateral relations after a visit by Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to Jakarta just over a year ago.

Responding to queries from The Straits Times, Indonesian armed forces (TNI) spokesman Wuryanto confirmed yesterday that ties with the Australian Defence Force have been halted. "Yes, they've been suspended until the technical issues are resolved" was all he would say.

Kompas.com, citing a confidential source, reported yesterday that the order was issued on Dec 29 by TNI chief Gatot Nurmantyo.

This came after an Indonesian Special Forces soldier said he saw course materials used during training in Perth, which allegedly disparaged TNI and Indonesia's national ideology, Pancasila. The Indonesian Special Forces train regularly with the Australian Special Air Service Regiment, based at Campbell Barracks in Perth.

TREAD WITH CAUTION

We need to be careful and not come to a wrong conclusion, because it could hurt Indonesia-Australia relations. But of course, in all conflicts it would be good to seek a resolution through diplomatic channels first.

MS DIANDRA MEGAPUTRI MENGKO, a defence expert from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences.

Australia's Defence Minister Marise Payne yesterday confirmed a TNI officer had raised concerns about the "teaching materials and remarks" late last year. An investigation into the complaint is under way, she said, adding that Canberra seeks to address Indonesia's concerns in a bid to restore "full cooperation as soon as possible".

Disputes over boat people and the live cattle trade, as well as a 2013 scandal that revealed attempts by Australia's spy agency to wiretap then president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, have tested relations between the two neighbours.

However, ties appeared to be on the mend over the last year after Mr Turnbull met Indonesian President Joko Widodo in 2015.

Professor Damien Kingsbury of Deakin University said the decision to suspend military ties was "significant", as security cooperation remains a key component of Indonesia-Australia relations.

"For them to break off military cooperation is much more significant than a tiff about some generalised insult," he told The Straits Times.

Prof Kingsbury speculated that the offensive materials in question may be related to Australia's involvement in the lead-up to Indonesia's withdrawal from what was then East Timor in 2002.

"The Indonesian military is still very sensitive about the (intervention)," he said. "A document acknowledging or celebrating that could be deemed offensive."

However, Ms Diandra Megaputri Mengko, a defence expert from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, yesterday cautioned against such speculation and called for more clarity on the "technical issues" as well as references to Pancasila that were deemed offensive.

"We need to be careful and not come to a wrong conclusion, because it could hurt Indonesia-Australia relations," she said.

"But of course, in all conflicts it would be good to seek a resolution through diplomatic channels first."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 05, 2017, with the headline 'Indonesia suspends military ties with Australia'. Print Edition | Subscribe