Jokowi plays down rift with Australia

TNI chief Gatot (right) told reporters yesterday that a TNI officer saw teaching materials at Campbell Barracks that apparently "disparaged" the TNI and Indonesians.
TNI chief Gatot (above) told reporters yesterday that a TNI officer saw teaching materials at Campbell Barracks that apparently "disparaged" the TNI and Indonesians.PHOTO: REUTERS

Despite order to suspend defence cooperation, he says ties still good

Indonesia sought to play down a rift with Australia after its military ordered defence cooperation to be suspended over "offensive" training materials found at a Perth army base.

President Joko Widodo said yesterday relations between the two neighbours "remain good" and that he has told Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI) chief Gatot Nurmantyo and Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu to resolve the issue.

"Indonesia and Australia have agreed to respect each other, to appreciate and not to interfere in the domestic affairs of our respective countries," Mr Joko told reporters at the state palace.

"I think our relationship with Australia is still good, but perhaps this needs to be conveyed on the operational level to ensure the situation does not get heated up," he said.

The order to suspend defence cooperation "was conveyed" to him and "permission" was given, Mr Joko said, dismissing Australian media reports that neither he nor the defence minister had been consulted.

The order was reportedly issued by General Gatot on Dec 29.

Yesterday, the Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs, Mr Wiranto, also clarified that defence cooperation was not "terminated as a whole" as had been reported by the media, but that only a language training programme was suspended.

"The termination of cooperation... is only temporary, and will resume after the Australians have taken the steps to settle the case," Mr Wiranto said, adding that bilateral relations will not be affected.

Gen Gatot told reporters yesterday that a TNI officer had come across teaching materials at Campbell Barracks in Perth that allegedly "disparaged" the TNI and Indonesians, including the national ideology, Pancasila.

The materials, he said, mentioned Indonesian province West Papua needing to become independent and spelt Pancasila as Pancagila. Gila means crazy in Indonesian.

The general said his Australian counterpart, Air Chief Marshal Mark Donald Binskin, has since apologised for the incident. A decision will be made to resume cooperation after Canberra completes its investigations, he added.

The Indonesian Special Forces train regularly with the Australian Special Air Service Regiment, based at Campbell Barracks.

Australian Defence Minister Marise Payne yesterday denied speculation that the TNI's anger had to do with Australia trying to recruit Indonesian officers as spies.

She said Indonesia's military had taken offence at a "number of issues" but refused to discuss them publicly. She also said she hoped Australian-Indonesian naval exercises planned for next month would still go ahead.

•Additional reporting by Jonathan Pearlman in Sydney

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 06, 2017, with the headline 'Jokowi plays down rift with Australia'. Print Edition | Subscribe