Subject: Indonesia asks Canberra for military aid

The Australian July 15, 2000

Indonesia asks Canberra for military aid


INDONESIA'S Defence Minister, Juwono Sudarsono, has requested Australian military assistance in meeting the huge humanitarian burden in the country's violence-racked eastern islands.

In a move that would help revive military ties, Mr Sudarsono said Australia could aid Indonesia's efforts to distribute food and medicines to the provinces of Maluku and North Maluku, where tens of thousands of people have been made homeless by fighting between Christians and Muslims.

Asked what kind of assistance Australia could provide, Mr Sudarsono told The Australian: "I would say initially it would be support for Indonesian vessels, but if you have some spares, in terms of transport ships, they are welcome."

He said he had asked President Abdurrahman Wahid to raise the issue of military co-operation in humanitarian relief operations when he eventually made his frequently postponed visit to Australia.

Support of this kind would be "an important element in the post-conflict rehabilitation stage" for islands hit by religious fighting, such as Ambon.

On the future of the defence relationship, Mr Sudarsono said he wanted to focus on sharing expertise in defence management and logistics planning, rather than combat-related training or military exercises.

He said in future more emphasis should be put on maritime co-operation, instead of controversial training activities such as the abandoned exercises between the Perth-based Special Air Service and Indonesia's elite Kopassus force.

Although describing the military relationship as very good even after East Timor, he suggested the rebuilding of ties was likely to have to wait until Mr Wahid finally made his visit.

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