Subject: SMH: Australian Defence push to get Indonesian forces onside

Sydney Morning Herald May 27, 2000

Defence push to get Indonesian forces onside

By David Lague, Defence Correspondent

The Defence Department will pressure the Federal Government to rebuild military links with Jakarta now political ties are warming, despite the role of Indonesian troops in East Timor atrocities.

Senior defence officials said strong military ties with Jakarta could be crucial in preparing contingency plans to evacuate Australians from Indonesia, as signs emerge of a new economic downturn that could again threaten political and social stability.

While negotiations are under way for Indonesia's President Abdurahman Wahid to visit Australia in July, defence officials also want to restore a relationship with their Indonesian counterparts that would reopen an important channel of information and intelligence on developments in Jakarta.

The Prime Minister, Mr Howard, said earlier this month that it was too early to renew defence ties in the wake of tension over East Timor. But Australian military officers are understood to be free to begin cultivating contacts in Indonesia.

One senior defence official said: "Instability in Indonesia is so great that we have too much at stake to leave the military withering on the vine." However, the Government is unlikely to allow Australia to again provide training for Indonesia's elite special forces, which were suspected of playing a key role in instigating militia violence in Timor.

The United States ended an eight-month freeze on defence contact with Indonesia this week in a move designed to reward the Wahid Government for bringing the military under civilian control and expanding democracy.

The US has invited Indonesian observers to exercises in Thailand and is planning a joint exercise with Indonesian troops in July. President Wahid has removed the former military chief, General Wiranto, who is now under investigation for his role in militia violence in Timor.

Senior Australian officers with experience in Indonesia believe the prospect of Indonesian co-operation with contingency evacuation plans is the biggest benefit of good relations with Jakarta's military leadership.

In May 1998, during the economic crisis, Australian officers secured the agreement of Indonesia's military for aircraft to land in Jakarta and for helicopters to fly in from ships offshore to evacuate some of the 15,000 Australian citizens in Indonesia if it became necessary.

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