Indonesian president says ties with Australia still good despite suspension of military cooperation

Indonesian President Joko Widodo inspects a guard of honour during a ceremonial reception at the Presidential Palace in New Delhi on Dec 12, 2016.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo inspects a guard of honour during a ceremonial reception at the Presidential Palace in New Delhi on Dec 12, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

JAKARTA  - President Joko Widodo on Thursday (Jan 5) sought to play down tensions between Indonesia and Australia, following the suspension of military ties between the two countries.

Speaking to reporters at the presidential palace, Mr Joko said Indonesia-Australia ties "remained good" despite the halting of cooperation between their two armed forces over what an Indonesian special forces officer perceived as offending materials found in an army base in Perth.

"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 said, adding that he has instructed Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI) chief Gatot Nurmantyo and Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu to resolve the issue.

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

General Gatot reportedly issued an order on Dec 29 to suspend all military cooperation with Canberra, after the TNI  Special Forces officer took offence with training materials used during a joint exercise in Perth last month. 

General Gatot said on Thursday that the officer had found materials that were "unethical" and "disparaged the TNI and Indonesians, including ideology of the Indonesian nation", Pancasila.

He said his Australian counterpart, Air Chief Marshal Mark Donald Binskin, has since apologised for the incident, adding that a decision will be made to resume military ties after Canberra completes its investigations. 

 

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

Australian Defence Minister Marise Payne said on Wednesday that Canberra seeks to address Indonesia's concerns in a bid to restore "full cooperation as soon as possible".

Australian media had reported that General Gatot suspended military ties without consulting the Indonesian president or the defence minister.

But Mr Joko said on Thursday that the move "was conveyed" to him and "there was permission" given to the general.

His remarks came hours after Australia's ABC News published a report online revealing that General Gatot had stopped sending TNI soldiers for training in Australia over fears that they may be "recruited" by the Australian military as potential agents.

The Australian defence minister told ABC News that such fears were unfounded.

"It is something that we would not countenance, of course," she said.

Ms Payne added that the materials  which prompted the suspension of defence cooperation had been removed.

"We should endeavour to ensure that the material we use is culturally appropriate, is to the point not gratuitous, and I am sure that those are matters which will be taken into account in the preparation of training material into the future," she said.