|Subject: AFP: Aust denies report of severed links
Date: Thu, 29 Oct 1998 15:46:46 +1200
From: sonny inbaraj <firstname.lastname@example.org> Organization: The AustralAsian
Australia denies report of severed links with Indonesia's Kopassus
SYDNEY, Oct 29 (AFP) - Australia Thursday denied accusations it had abandoned major military exercises with Indonesia's elite Kopassus special forces amid criticism of the unit's human rights record.
Two November exercises with Kopassus had been called off, The Australian newspaper said quoting defence sources saying there was a freeze on military links to avoid the perception of Australia being too close to the group.
But Defence Minister John Moore said the plans had been deferred by mutual agreement because of Indonesian government budget cuts.
"These are internal matters for the Indonesia government and its defence force," he said in a statement.
The report said a planned Special Air Service (SAS) exercise in Indonesia in June and command-level visits between the two elite services had also been scrapped.
"The decision by Canberra, approved at a ministerial level, amounts to a virtual freeze on contact between the Australian Defence Force and Indonesia's red berets," The Australian said.
It said the relationship between the two crack units was once the most active and valued elements of Australia's defence relationship with Indonesia.
Kopassus's reputation has been sullied since the fall of former president Suharto in May when the lid was lifted on alleged systematic human rights abuses and suppression of political dissent.
Two former Kopassus commanders, including Suharto's son-in-law Prabowo Subianto, were discharged from the armed forces in August over their role in the kidnap and torture of political activists.
The Australian said the freeze on military links had concerned elements of the Perth-based SAS who believed they should stand by their association with Kopassus.
"Kopassus is trying to clean up its act at a great rate of knots and here we are leaving them," one officer reportedly said.
Defence expert Des Ball from Canberra's Centre for Strategic Studies said the decision to freeze contact between the two forces was inevitable.
"It has been fraught with dangers and with difficulties and it is time, in fact, that the relationship was severed," he told national radio.
He said the Australian government had put up several arguments over the years to justify the relationship.
"One of them is that the sorts of training that are undertaken, which is to a large extent counter-terrorist training with the SAS in Perth, this sort of training has not been translated into its more negative operations in East Timor and elsewhere.
"More generally, if Australia is trying to build up close defence relations with Indonesia it's had little choice but to cooperate closely with Kopassus."
Ball said the break with Kopassus, which he described as leading its nation's forces in terms of professionalism and English language skills, would have implications for the wider bilateral defence relationship.