Indonesia accepts Australian apology over military row

Indonesian Military Chief Gatot Nurmantyo (right) and Chief of Australian Army Angus Campbell pose for a photo at the military headquarters in Jakarta.
Indonesian Military Chief Gatot Nurmantyo (right) and Chief of Australian Army Angus Campbell pose for a photo at the military headquarters in Jakarta. PHOTO: AFP

JAKARTA (AFP) - Indonesia said it had accepted an Australian apology after teaching materials deemed offensive to Jakarta led to a partial suspension of ties, as the neighbours sought to end their latest row.

The dispute erupted last month when the Indonesian armed forces announced it was putting military cooperation with Australia on hold after the materials were found at an Australian army base where Indonesian forces were training.

After initially announcing a full freeze, Indonesia later insisted the suspension was only partial and applied to joint language training.

The materials, which were spotted by a visiting Indonesian officer, contained comments deemed offensive on subjects including the Papua region's independence movement and Indonesia's state ideology known as Pancasila.

It was just the latest row between the neighbours, whose relationship has been beset in recent years by disputes over Jakarta's execution of Australian drug smugglers and Canberra's hardline policy of turning migrant boats back to Indonesia.

In a bid to resolve the row, Australian Army Chief Angus Campbell visited Jakarta on Wednesday (Feb 8) to meet with Indonesia's military chief Gatot Nurmantyo.

Campbell offered an apology, said that Australia was suspending the Indonesian language education programme to make improvements, and insisted all personnel involved in the incident had been punished, according to a statement from the Indonesian military.

"Nurmantyo accepted the apology and noted that in an era of global competition, unity and friendship are a necessity," said the statement released late Wednesday after the talks.

The partial military suspension will stay in place for now. Nurmantyo will report to Indonesian President Joko Widodo on whether he believes full ties should be restored, the statement added.

Earlier Wednesday, Indonesian Security Minister Wiranto played down the row, insisting their relations were "very strong" and noting Widodo planned to visit Australia later this month.

The minister, who goes by one name, said "small incidents" should not "rattle the good relations between the two countries".

There have been tensions between the neighbours' militaries in the past.

Australia suspended training with notorious Indonesian army unit Kopassus over the notorious unit's role in human rights abuses in East Timor in 1999 as the then-Indonesian territory geared up for independence, but it resumed several years later.