Subject: SMH, Age: Howard, Megawati in joint move against terror [+ SMH editorial] editorial]

Editorial: Our own agenda

Sydney Morning Herald February 7, 2002

Patrol boats peace offer to Indonesia

Photo: Into the lion's den ... a conciliatory Mr Howard last night with President Megawati. Photo: Mike Bowers

By Michelle Grattan, Lindsay Murdoch and Tom Allard

Australia promised Indonesia five police boats to patrol its borders and the two countries agreed to a memorandum of understanding to counter terrorism in landmark talks between the Prime Minister, John Howard, and President Megawati Sukarnoputri last night.

Mr Howard reaffirmed in the strongest possible terms that Australia supported the territorial unity of Indonesia.

The meeting came against the fraught background of both the presiding officers of the Indonesian parliament snubbing Mr Howard by pulling out of a meeting with him amid claims that Australia had blamed Indonesia for people smuggling and was encouraging the independence movement in West Papua.

All of Indonesia's 10 political parties and several Jakarta newspapers also expressed opposition to Mr Howard's visit, his second to Jakarta in six months.

The Prime Minister went out of his way to play down differences over people smuggling and to reassure Indonesia on the West Papua issue.

Mr Howard said: "I told the President that Australia supports the unity and integrity of Indonesian territory."

Ms Megawati said after the meeting: "We are convinced relations between Indonesia and Australia should be more realistic and rational in the future."

The proposal for the anti-terrorism pact came from Indonesia. Mr Howard said that he and the Government were very favourably disposed towards it and that it might be signed during his visit.

"That will send a very strong signal that Indonesia and Australia are serious about this challenge," he said.

At a brief news conference after their meeting, during which there were no questions, the two leaders gave little detail of their discussion on people smuggling.

Mr Howard said the two countries would jointly convene this month's regional conference in Bali on the issue.

Although there were bilateral issues on people smuggling between Australia and Indonesia, it was an issue that must be tackled on a regional basis. He and Ms Megawati had covered the "major areas of the bilateral relationship".

Mr Howard said that this relationship must "be based on realism" and recognised that there would be areas in which the two countries would not always agree.

The delicate issue of separatist movements in Papua was on the mind of both leaders.

Mr Howard made a major feature of Australia's support for Indonesia's unity and said he respected the autonomy package for West Papua.

The Co-ordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, said after the meeting that Ms Megawati had told Mr Howard she would like to see Australia taking some concrete steps to reinforce its support for Indonesia's territorial integrity.

Despite the opposition to his visit, the Prime Minister was greeted with a full ceremonial welcome at the Presidential Palace, before he and Ms Megawati went straight into their meeting.

During the talks Mr Howard also promised $1 million to help the victims of Indonesia's floods, which will probably be delivered through the Red Cross and the World Food Program.

Mr Howard said Australia also looked forward to the conference with Indonesia and East Timor on February 25, which was another important example of the co-operation between Australia and Indonesia as well as between the three countries.


Sydney Morning Herald February 7, 2002

Editorial

Our own agenda

With Australia riding in the foreign policy slipstream of the United States, it is no surprise that Canberra has been quietly backing US plans to resume military links with Indonesia as part of Washington's expanded "war against terrorism". The US rationale is that only with US support can Indonesia's dispirited armed forces - shunned by Western governments over the 1999 military atrocities in East Timor - effectively pursue suspected Indonesian-based terrorist cells. While Canberra's backing is consistent with the unflagging support by the Prime Minister, John Howard, for Washington's anti-terrorism campaign, it is likely to further complicate Australia's precarious bilateral relationship with Indonesia. When Mr Howard landed in Jakarta yesterday on his way back from the US, that relationship was looking decidedly shaky on several fronts.

The issue of US-Indonesian military ties is clearly of considerable interest to Australia. Both the US and Australia severed military training, exchanges and aid in response to the Indonesian military-led carnage in East Timor. Both Australia and the US have previously linked the resumption of military co-operation to reforms within the Indonesian military and the prosecution of officers responsible for human rights abuses. Without such reforms in place, Mr Howard must be careful to separate Australia's interests from the goals of the US anti-terrorist campaign. Australia's earlier policy of close military engagement, including the training of Indonesia's notorious special forces, proved ineffective in protecting human rights and attracted considerable opposition at home. Perhaps more importantly, Australia should avoid being seen as America's messenger in Asia if it is to repair damaged diplomatic ties in the region.

From Indonesia's point of view there are compelling reasons to resist US military assistance on the ground, despite the military's desperate need for funding and equipment. While the Indonesian President, Megawati Sukarnoputri, was an early supporter of the US campaign, she faced considerable anti-US sentiment within her parliament and on the streets. Armed extremist Islamic groups, tenuously linked to terrorists, represent only a minuscule minority in Muslim-majority Indonesia and are widely condemned. Islam is a powerful vehicle for grievances arising from Indonesia's grinding poverty and instability, however, and its small armed Islamic groups play into a series of complex and dangerous local power struggles over resources and political power. This means any outside intervention would be extremely sensitive. At the same time many ordinary Indonesians viewed the huge US military assault on Afghanistan as an attack on the Muslim brotherhood, rather than a specific anti-terrorist operation. Mr Howard did little to bolster bilateral ties when he publicly cautioned Ms Megawati late last year over her criticism of the US bombardment of Afghanistan.

While Australia's pro-US foreign policy may cast a long shadow, it should not obscure the real and urgent need to repair bilateral links with Jakarta. Mr Howard was reminded of just how precarious these ties remain when the Speaker of the Parliament, Amien Rais, announced that all 10 parties in the legislature had voted against the Howard visit. Mr Howard's so-called "megaphone diplomacy" over asylum seekers has not won him any friends in the Indonesian political elite, which favours quiet discussions over public criticism. Nor has the fact that Australia has loudly condemned Indonesian people smugglers - and the asylum seekers who use their services - yet has accepted only two refugees of the 600 or so processed in Indonesia and awaiting resettlement. Mr Howard's meeting with Ms Megawati last night was a positive development, but considerable delicate diplomatic work remains.

------------------------------

The Age February 7, 2002

PM, Megawati in joint move against terror

By LINDSAY MURDOCH and LOUISE DODSON JAKARTA

Australia and Indonesia last night vowed to strike an agreement to join forces to help counter the threat of terrorism in the region following a meeting between Prime Minister John Howard and President Megawati Sukarnoputri.

Australia also announced that it would provide Indonesia with five police patrol boats to help it break up people-smuggling networks.

After their meeting at the presidential palace, Mr Howard and Mrs Megawati both spoke of building a relationship between the two countries based on "realism and rationalism".

Mr Howard said that although "we are near neighbours, there were areas in which we will not always agree". But he emphasised that Australia strongly supported the territorial integrity and unity of Indonesia, a reference to criticisms from senior Indonesian politicians that Australia supported independence for Papua.

Mr Howard said that Indonesia had proposed a memorandum of understanding between the nations to counter terrorism. This was being worked on by government officials and he hoped it would be signed before he returned to Australia at the end of the week.

In addition, Mr Howard told Mrs Megawati that Australia would provide $1 million in special aid to Indonesia to help Jakarta recover from serious flooding. This is in addition to the $121 million aid Australia provides annually.

Earlier yesterday, Mr Howard was forced to cancel a scheduled visit to Indonesia's parliament this morning after a high-level snub of his visit widened to include the party of Mrs Megawati.

MPs from all of Indonesia's 10 major political parties had expressed opposition to Mr Howard's three-day visit by the time he arrived in Jakarta last night.

The speaker of the lower parliament, Akbar Tanjung, said the political parties would ask Mrs Megawati to explain why she invited Mr Howard to the country.

Mr Tanjung joined Dr Amien Rais, head of the supreme parliament, in cancelling a meeting with Mr Howard.

Dr Rais said Indonesia had not forgiven Australia for many past conflicts, including its policy towards Papua and disagreement over the handling of asylum seekers.

After angrily hitting back at Dr Rais on Tuesday, Mr Howard last night played down the snub, saying it was due to Indonesian domestic politics.

Several leading politicians and Jakarta newspapers have launched scathing attacks on Mr Howard ahead of his second visit to Jakarta in six months.

Roy Janis, the parliamentary head of Mrs Megawati's Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, said Mr Howard's visit was not "largely welcomed by our party ... Australia has this dualistic approach when it comes to Papua".

Relations were strained last year over the asylum-seeker issue and have not fully recovered from Australia's involvement in East Timor in 1999.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda tried to play down the MPs' boycott, saying it was not the official stance. "Some of the members did raise their concerns, but not all," he told the Jakarta Post.

Dr Rais said he still intended to attend a state banquet in Mr Howard's honour, scheduled for last night. He also admitted there was no hard evidence that Australia supported independence for Papua.

The Media Indonesia newspaper said in an editorial that unlike former prime minister Paul Keating, Mr Howard was temperamental and "likes to make unfriendly and racist" statements.

The newspaper accused Mr Howard of supporting the independence movement in Papua, but gave no evidence. It said Australia was the first country to support independence for East Timor. "For what he has done, Howard should experience the cyclone because he earlier created the wind," the newspaper said.

The Kompas newspaper said that despite efforts to improve relations, "the problem is with Howard's personality and performance, which in the Indonesian perception tends to disturb the state of the relationship".

The English-language Jakarta Post condemned the MPs' refusal to meet Mr Howard.


Back to February menu
January
World Leaders Contact List
Human Rights Violations in East Timor
Main Postings Menu

Note: For those who would like to fax "the powers that be" - CallCenter is a Native 32-bit Voice Telephony software application integrated with fax and data communications... and it's free of charge! Download from http://www.v3inc.com/