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Australia ready to talk on military ties with Jakarta
14 August 2001
Lindsay Murdoch, Herald Correspondent in Jakarta
Australia has buried the hatchet with Indonesia's new government over East Timor, opening the way for renewed contact between the two countries' armed forces.
Indonesia's senior security minister, Mr Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, said after meeting the Prime Minister, Mr Howard, in Jakarta yesterday that talks were needed between ministers and the military chiefs of both countries on how to restart the co-operation that was cut in 1998 over the Indonesian military's human rights record.
Mr Yudhoyono, a former army general, said he and Mr Howard had discussed "the need to improve the co-operation between the Australian army and the Indonesian army".
Asked about Mr Yudhoyono's comments, Mr Howard told journalists that while no arrangements for resuming ties had been made, talks on them would be held "inevitably and gradually". He did not elaborate.
The Bush administration is moving tentatively to resume some contact between the Indonesian and US militaries but has made clear a ban on weapons sales to Jakarta would not be lifted until Indonesia punishes those responsible for atrocities in East Timor.
Mr Howard and Indonesia's new president, Ms Megawati Sukarnoputri, have agreed to boost a wide range of ties.
During his 26-hour visit, Mr Howard pledged Australia's support for Indonesia as it struggles to rebuild its economy but urged Ms Megawati's government to push for transparency in institutions such as the banks and the legal system.
"Laws which are attractive to mining companies and things of that kind are important as far as Australia is concerned," he said.
Several mining companies operating in Indonesia have had their sites overrun by illegal miners and have been pressured to pay bribes to provincial administrations.
Mr Howard promised Australia would argue the case for Indonesia when "unreasonable demands" were made on it in international forums, an apparent reference to the International Money Fund, which is holding up $A800 million in aid for the country's collapsed economy because of Indonesia's failure to introduce economic reforms.
But, Mr Howard said, as a friend, Australia must tell Indonesia there could be no turning back from economic openness "as far as the world economy is concerned."
Indonesian and Australian officials said Mr Howard and Ms Megawati established a personal rapport during two meetings and a dinner that buried lingering animosity over Australia's role in East Timor in 1999.
Ms Megawati described a one-hour meeting with Mr Howard at the presidential palace yesterday morning as "frank."
She and Mr Howard released a 15-point communique that "reaffirmed the commitment of both countries to a strong bilateral relationship based on mutual benefit and respect".
Indonesia's new foreign minister, Mr Hassan Wirajuda, told reporters Mr Howard's visit, less than three weeks after Ms Megawati had taken office, had taken relations between the two countries to a higher plane.
Asked if both countries had put differences over East Timor behind them, Mr Wirajuda said: "I believe so, because what we discussed were practical ways to resolve the residual issues of East Timor."
Sydney Morning Herald