Subject: Indon president deplores attempted attack on Australian envoy

Indonesian president deplores attempted attack on Australian envoy

JAKARTA, Nov 22 (AFP) - Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid on Wednesday express regrets over an attempted attack by pro-Jakarta East Timorese on Australia's outgoing ambassador to Jakarta John McCarthy.

"The president deplores the incident in Makassar, which has tarnished Indonesia's image and spoiled McCarthy's last days in office," presidential spokesman Wimar Witoelar said, quoted by the Detikcom news portal.

Up to 20 people tried to attack McCarthy on Tuesday as he attended a function in the eastern Indonesian city of Makassar, the capital of South Sulawesi province.

But Witoelar said Wahid was convinced the incident would not alter McCarthy's "appreciation" of the country.

"McCarthy has been on personal good terms with the president and other officials," Witoelar said.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard Wednesday described the attack by the mob opposed to Australia's role in overseeing East Timor's transition to independence as "regrettable and unacceptable."

But he said the relationship between Canberra and Jakarta was improving, despite a rift caused by Australia's support for East Timorese independence.

"I am pleased to note that the Indonesian government is apologising for the incident. I welcome that."

Howard said residual tension over East Timor was "manageable".

"The relationship at an official diplomatic level is slowly improving," Howard said.

McCarthy also played down the incident.

"They tried to get into the compound where I and the people I was with were standing," he said.

"Nobody actually tried to attack me but there was some minor violence.

"There were three Australians there besides myself. None suffered any injuries. One suffered a kick and the other a punch."

Australia was one of the few countries to recognize Indonesia's sovereignty over the former Portuguese colony of East Timor, which Jakarta annexed in 1976.

But Indonesia was angered by Australian efforts to get a UN peacekeeping force deployed in East Timor when violence erupted there in 1999 in the wake of the August UN-ballot.

Australia was later appointed to head the UN-sanctioned multilateral forces in the province, further antagonizing Jakarta.

Relations between the two countries took another blow when some Indonesian officials and politicians accused Australia of tacit support for rising separatism in the remote province of Irian Jaya.

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