|Subject: SMH, Age: Howard and Indonesians
share secrets in terror pact
Sydney Morning Herald February 8, 2002
Howard and Indonesians share secrets in terror pact
Extensive information sharing will be the centrepiece of the new anti-terror deal signed yesterday between Australia and Indonesia.
But the Prime Minister, John Howard, says the pact - the most important between the two countries since the ill-fated security agreement was cancelled during the East Timor crisis - will not lead to Australia intervening in Indonesia's domestic affairs.
The anti-terrorism memorandum of understanding, signed in the presence of Mr Howard, was proposed by the Indonesians only on Tuesday and provides for information sharing for "preventing, suppressing and combating international terrorism".
The memorandum covers swapping intelligence, enhancing co-operation between law agencies and strengthening capabilities to fight terrorism through training, exchange visits of officials and specialists, seminars and joint operations.
It covers police, military, intelligence and other law enforcement agencies such as customs, immigration, justice and attorney-general's departments.
The duration of the memorandum will be one year initially but can be extended by mutual consent. It will allow the two countries to jointly identify international terrorist threats and work together to handle them.
This co-operation might involve the defence forces, but Mr Howard went out of his way to say the agreement did not mean special links between Australia's SAS and Indonesia's Kopassus special force.
As politicians from Yogyakarta regional parliament threatened to boycott functions for Mr Howard, he was anxious to dispel claims that Australia was prone to meddle in Indonesia's internal affairs.
Australia immediately briefed the United States on the deal, and the Americans welcomed it. They have been anxious to get Indonesia more involved in anti-terrorist activities.
The agreement has been seen by Australia as one of the most significant areas of practical co-operation between the two countries in recent years.
When asked whether the deal could mean information sharing on the activities of rebels in Papua and Aceh, whom Indonesia would regard as terrorists, Mr Howard said: "I want to make it very clear that this agreement is not going to be any kind of device whereby Australia gets involved in the domestic affairs of Indonesia. It's about combating international terrorism."
At a breakfast meeting with the co-ordinating minister for political and security affairs, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and the Foreign Minister, Dr Hassan Wirajuda, Mr Howard was told forthrightly why parliamentary members had refused to meet him formally.
Mr Yudhoyono said later he had told Mr Howard many Indonesians believed Australia had improperly intervened in East Timor and that some Australians, albeit not the Government, had given support to the Papua independence movement.
He also said Indonesians believed Australia had pushed their country into a corner by always blaming it for not taking adequate steps against asylum-seekers.
"We deliberately raised these to Howard - that there are indeed such issues within Indonesia. Australia should certainly provide proper clarifications," he said.
He said Mr Howard had said these impressions were untrue.
A small group protested outside Mr Howard's Jakarta hotel yesterday, while students at the University of Gajahmada, which he will be visiting, said they were organising a demonstration.
Mr Howard suggested the political action he has faced was driven by Indonesian domestic politics. "Every country operates in a political environment - I understand that," he said.
He accused the media of placing too much importance on the snubs. It had been "a nice newspaper story but really, in the great sweep of the relationship between the two countries, I don't think it means anything".
He saw the visit as positive, although no one visit provided a "king-hit solution to the difficulties between two nations".
Mr Howard said the two governments would set up a Muslim forum to increase dialogue between Muslims in Indonesia and Australia.
Howard tightens ties with Jakarta
Australia and Indonesia yesterday entered a closer new relationship with increased defence, intelligence, police, legal and cultural ties, despite snubs from Indonesian politicians marring Mr Howard's visit.
In a strong overture to the people of the world's most populous Muslim nation, Mr Howard set up a regular forum for meetings between Islamic leaders in Australia and Indonesia.
He called on Australians to be "sympathetic" and "supportive" towards Indonesia, but conceded that differences remained and that one visit could not be seen as "a sort of king-hit solution to the difficulties between two nations".
A new memorandum of understanding initially for 12 months between the two countries was formally signed by Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda and Australian ambassador Ric Smith with Mr Howard present.
It will cover Australia sharing with Indonesia information from all intelligence agencies as well as the police and the Customs, Immigration and Attorney-General's departments, as part of a new campaign to counter international terrorism in the region.
However, it will not involve the use of United States intelligence, which is shared with Australia without prior approval from the Americans, senior officials said.
The US was told about the memorandum on Wednesday and warmly welcomed the move. It is planning to upgrade its links with Indonesia to fight terrorism in the region.
Mr Howard also announced a new process of ministerial dialogue between the two countries, which he said was similar to the Australia-US dialogue.
He signalled assistance in pressing the International Monetary Fund to allow Indonesia more time to pay back loans.
And he said defence ties would gradually increase over time, but strongly denied reports of cooperation between Australia's elite SAS military and Indonesian forces.The ties will probably involve visits by top military officials.
Mr Howard has not been able to get much progress on a regional agreement with Indonesia on measures to combat people smuggling, although the issue was discussed and will be further pursued at the conference hosted by Australia and Indonesia in Bali later this month.
The PM also played down the role of Indonesia in the movement of asylum seekers to Australia, saying: "It has to be understood that all of the people who come to Australia or sought to come to Australia in recent months have come originally from countries other than Indonesia."
In response to claims by Indonesian politicians such as Amien Rais, Mr Howard was forced to stress publicly Australia's commitment to Indonesia's unity and territory, including Papua and the troubled Aceh province. He stressed that the new memorandum would not "be any kind of device whereby Australia gets involved in the domestic affairs of Indonesia".
Accusations that Australia supported the independence of Papua have been used by Mr Rais and other Indonesian politicians to cancel scheduled formal meetings with Mr Howard, although Mr Rais, Speaker of the Indonesian People's Consultative Assembly, did attend the state dinner last night and talked with Mr Howard.
The cancellation of Mr Howard's visit to the Indonesian parliament was dismissed by the Prime Minister as domestic politicking.
Mr Howard invited President Megawati to visit Australia later this year.
Indonesians are simply playing politics
The snubbing of John Howard this week was all about domestic Indonesian politics, writes Michelle Grattan.
When Amien Rais arrived at the state banquet that President Megawati Sukarnoputri hosted for the Howards on Wednesday night, there was a distinct whiff of cynicism among the Australian travelling party. Only a day earlier Rais, one of the Indonesian Parliament's two speakers, had immensely complicated John Howard's visit by cancelling his proposed meeting with the Prime Minister.
Now here he was first in line among the dignitaries shaking Howard's hand.
"He said 'Welcome back! Good to see you again'," Howard recounted yesterday. It was very Javanese. Rais had said he wouldn't meet Howard because the parliamentarians were critical of Australia's alleged interference in Indonesia's affairs. But he also wouldn't decline a presidential invitation.
At least that appears to have been the message given to the Australians. Rais's snub to Howard - reinforced when the Parliament's second speaker, Akbar Tandjung, also pulled out of a meeting - was substantially about domestic Indonesian politics. That's certainly how the Australians want it seen. Rais is an opponent of Megawati, and the Parliament was asserting itself against the executive.
But it also had a deeper message. And it affected how Howard has played his time in Indonesia. Despite the diplomatic messiness, the PM issued a tough rebuttal of Rais's claims even before he arrived in Jakarta. In his first day in Indonesia, Howard was still countering the Rais attack. One of Rais's allegations - that Australia had accused Indonesia of being complicit in people smuggling - might have been arguable, though Howard denied it. The other - that Australia was encouraging the independence movement in West Papua - was just not true.
Hugh White, director of the newly established Australian Strategic Policy Institute and a former adviser to Labor and Liberal governments, says: "The key thing that the incident demonstrates is that the big issue between Australia and Indonesia is not boat people - it's the continual erosion of trust in the relationship flowing from East Timor and spilling into the Papua issue. People in Indonesia believe - wrongly but deeply - it was Australia's objective to take East Timor off Indonesia and that it's the objective to do the same with West Papua."
Indonesia's Co-ordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyno, told Howard straight out why the Parliament snubbed him and then told journalists there were "three particular perceptions" that many Indonesians held. One was that Australia had improperly involved itself in the "East Timor commotion". The second that "some elements of people" - not the Government - in Australia had given support to the Papua independence movement. The third, there was a perception that on illegal migrants Australia had "pushed Indonesia to the corner by always blaming Indonesia for not taking adequate steps to handle the matter".
The fears held - despite Australian denials - by many Indonesians about West Papua are understandable. After all, it's only several years ago that Australia said - and certainly believed - that East Timor should remain part of Indonesia. International circumstances and Australian opinion changed. Some Indonesians no doubt believe the same metamorphose of opinion may happen with West Papua.
In his talks with Megawati and his speech to the state banquet, Howard went to great lengths to reaffirm Australia's position. "I told the President that Australia strongly supported the territorial integrity and the unity of the Indonesian nation and we understand the challenges of a vast country," he said after their meeting.
Aware that his visit had become more high risk, Howard also seemed especially careful not to push Megawati beyond her comfort zone on people smuggling. So instead of pushing for firm progress on bilateral aspects, he put the greatest stress publicly on this month's regional conference on people smuggling, hosted by Indonesia and Australia in Bali.
Indonesia has always argued this is an international, rather than a bilateral, matter. However, it has accepted from Howard five police runabout boats to enhance its capability to deal with the people traffickers.
The Opposition's foreign affairs spokesman, Kevin Rudd, says the problem of having the bilateral people smuggling talks result in a "non outcome is not so much damaging in itself but damaging because it doesn't create momentum". Howard has a lot invested in this three-day visit, which winds up today after a visit to Yogyakarta, a key cultural centre of the country.
Relations between Howard and Megawati, fraught during the Tampa crisis, have significantly improved since November 10. Howard's aim this week is to consolidate that. Big hiccups notwithstanding, he has done so.
But his uneasy demeanour at yesterday's news conference suggested it has been a rough visit for him. As he headed off to Yogyakarta, there were reports that some regional parliamentarians there said they would not attend events put on for him.
Howard is very aware of how the pictures on these trips look back home, but the Indonesian leg is producing bad images - summed up in a testy exchange between Howard and Channel 7 reporter Glenn Milne, who asked at yesterday's press conference: "Do you ever tire of coming up here with offers of assistance, aid and goodwill and being humiliated?"
A tetchy Howard shot back: "Do you ever tire of excessively negative interpretations?".
On this visit, the public language between the leaders has been frank, even blunt. After their relatively short meeting, Megawati said: "We are convinced that the relations between Indonesia and Australia should be more realistic and rational in the future." In her banquet speech she was generous about Australia but also referred to the "ups and downs of relations" between the two countries over the years. Howard also did not gild the lily.
At the tangible level, the memorandum of understanding agreed on to counter terrorism marks a step up in the relationship. It's nothing like the security agreement of the Keating days. In retrospect that wasn't a very good idea, and neither side of Australian politics - let alone the Indonesians - would ever try such a thing again.
The anti-terrorism memorandum is useful politically and practically. The proposal came from the Indonesians, indicating they were engaged with Australia and with the issue. The Americans and some regional countries have been critical of Indonesia for not taking a strong enough stance against terrorism, and this will improve Indonesia's credentials.
The memorandum will provide a worthwhile exchange of information between Australian and Indonesian agencies on a range of law-enforcement and related issues. But its scope is limited. Howard was anxious to stress yesterday that none of the information exchanged would see Australia meddling in Indonesia's internal affairs. He had been asked whether Australia might share intelligence on Indonesian trouble spots such as Papua and Aceh.
The memorandum was the achievement of the visit. The failure to make bilateral progress on people smuggling was the limitation of it.
The openly expressed angst from Rais and other critics was an embarrassment and a restraint on the Howard trip. But it also contains a useful wider message for the relationship, which could be absorbed without significant damage because Megawati was as determined as Howard that their encounter should be positive.
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