Subject: Australia's defence relationship with Indonesia "not an alliance"

Australia's defence relationship with Indonesia "not an alliance"

JAKARTA, Dec 6 (AFP) - Australia's plans for a new and closer defence relationship with Indonesia, should not be seen as an alliance, a senior Australian diplomat said here Wednesday.

The new strategy, outlined in a White Paper released in Canberra Wednesday, would enhance the two neighbours' current "working relationship" in defence issues into "a closer" one, said embassy minister Leslie Rowe.

But Rowe, speaking to journalists at a press briefing on the white paper here, said that Australia would not be "in any sense talking about an alliance relationship" with Indonesia's defence ministry.

"What we are talking about is cooperation, is establishing a good working relationship between the two defence forces ... please don't go away with a sense here that we are in anyway suggesting forming an alliance," he said.

"What we are talking here about is a closer working relationship in the future," Rowe added.

The White Paper, citing "lingering misunderstandings" in Indonesia following Australia's recent role in East Timor, said they had hindered "opportunities offered by Indonesia's democratising achievements to establish the foundations of a new defence relationship."

Australia was at the forefront of efforts to send a UN peacekeeping force to East Timor after violence erupted following the UN-brokered self-rule ballot held there in August 1999.

But despite the strained ties, the paper said Canberra also believed that "having a good defence relationship" with Indonesia remains "as important as ever."

"The goverment is committed to working with the Indonesian government to establish over time a new defence relationship that will serve our enduring shared strategic interests," it said -- describing Indonesia as "our biggest and most important near neighbour."

The paper also said that Australia would "seek to develop an effective defence relationship with East Timor, as we have with all our near neighbours."

A five-member Indonesian ministerial delegation is expected to go to Canberra this week for talks aimed at improving bilateral ties.

The talks -- seen as an important precursor to a planned visit by President Abdurrahman Wahid -- are expected to focus on the worsening conflict in the Irian Jaya province and Canberra's fear that Indonesia is being used as a jump-off point for illegal immigration.

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