Australian army chief apologises to Indonesian military chief for offensive training material

Australian army chief Lt Gen Angus Campbell (left) visits Indonesian armed forces chief Gen Gatot Nurmantyo in Jakarta.
Australian army chief Lt Gen Angus Campbell (left) visits Indonesian armed forces chief Gen Gatot Nurmantyo in Jakarta.PHOTO: PUSPEN TNI

JAKARTA - Australian Army chief Angus Campbell on Wednesday (Feb 8) met with Indonesian armed forces chief Gatot Nurmantyo, to apologise for training materials found at a Perth military base that were offensive to Indonesia.

General Gatot had suspended all military cooperation with the Australian Defence Force (ADF) on Dec 29, reportedly after one of his soldiers discovered the materials during a joint exercise earlier that same month.

However, Indonesia clarified days later that the suspension only covered part of the cooperation between the ADF and TNI.

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

On Wednesday, Lieutenant General Campbell visited the Indonesian military (TNI) headquarters in Cilangkap, East Jakarta, and gave Gen Gatot an update of Australia's investigation into the incident.

He told Gen Gatot that the ADF has since suspended its training modules related to Indonesia and is in the process of reviewing the staff involved in the course. According to a statement by the TNI released on Wednesday night, the ADF has also punished the personnel responsible for the incident.

Gen Gatot expressed his gratitude for the response by the ADF to resolve the issue but stopped short of announcing the resumption of military cooperation between the two countries.

The TNI said Gen Gatot will discuss the matter with Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu and Foreign Affairs Minister Retno Marsudi, before updating President Joko Widodo.

The debacle between the armed forces came on the back of improved bilateral relations after a visit by Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to Jakarta just over a year ago.

It emerged after an Indonesian Special Forces soldier claimed he saw course materials used during training in Perth that allegedly disparaged the TNI and Indonesia's national ideology, Pancasila.

"Pancasila is the national ideology of Indonesia as well as for all its people, which is why the Indonesian people are willing to die to defend the ideology, for our soldiers it is very sensitive and painful (for it to be insulted)," said Gen Gatot.

The ADF and TNI have cooperated closely on counter-terrorism in recent years although they also had a testy relationship due to Australia's involvement in the lead-up to Indonesia's withdrawal from East Timor in 2002.

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

But ties appeared to be on the mend over the past year after Mr Turnbull met Indonesian President Joko in 2015, and both governments were quick to play down the incident earlier this year.

After news broke last month that Gen Gatot had ordered all military cooperation between the TNI and ADF to be put on hold,  Indonesia's chief security minister Wiranto clarified that the suspension only covered the language-training conducted at the Perth camp.

Mr Wiranto, a former army general who was TNI chief during the Suharto era, on Wednesday confirmed that President Joko will visit Mr Turnbull in Australia on Feb 26 to reaffirm bilaterals ties between the two countries.