Jakarta backs down in Australia spat

The Australian special forces train with their Indonesian counterparts. Source: Wikimedia

The government in Jakarta appears to have backed down from a decision to suspend all military ties with Australia in a dispute over anti-Indonesian training documents, with a minister explaining that only language training had been put on ice.

Indonesia’s armed forces, apparently without speaking to the civilian authorities, on Wednesday moved to suspend all cooperation after a special forces officer was offended by material he reportedly saw at a Perth military base which insulted Indonesia’s founding principles and backed independence for the restive province of West Papua.

According to the Indonesian media, teaching materials contained words that demeaned Pancasila, a set of vague principles that mandates belief in monotheism and unity among Indonesians.

But Indonesian defence minister Ryamizard Ryacudu said the suspension was a military not a political decision and the officer concerned had been punished.

“It was all the doings of some lieutenants,” he said. “They have been reprimanded and punished. Don’t let actions of some low-ranking officers affect relations of two countries. That’s not good.”

The Australian and Indonesian leaders have publicly insisted relations were strong and Jakarta’s security minister, Wiranto, has now said he was provided with a “clarification”.

The armed forces had “temporarily suspended cooperation in language training”, Wiranto announced, after “a small incident that has offended our dignity as a nation”.

Wiranto contradicted an earlier military statement about severing all ties. Canberra and Jakarta work together on border protection, counter-terrorism and other issues.

“The suspension is temporary and will be resumed after Australia clearly takes measures to resolve the matter,” Wiranto said.

Australian defence minister Marise Payne said the relationship remained healthy and that she expected to be able to resume full ties with Indonesia’s military.

“The Australian army has looked into the serious concerns that were raised and the investigation into the incident is being finalised,” Payne told the media. “The issue of West Papua was raised by the Indonesian defense minister.”

She said an inquiry, launched in November to look into the incident, was due to be completed imminently. The training material in question had been removed, and would soon be replaced with “appropriate” documents, the minister said. “We have indicated our regret that this occurred and that offence was taken.

“Australia is committed to building a strong defence relationship with Indonesia, including through cooperation in training. We will work with Indonesia to restore full cooperation as soon as possible.”

Indonesia’s special forces, Kopassus, trains with the Australian Special Air Service at the SAS base at Campbell Barracks in Perth.