Subject: AP: Australia defends maritime anti-terror plan

Friday, December 17, 2004

Australia defends maritime anti-terror plan

December 16, 2004 10:44pm Associated Press WorldStream

JAKARTA, Indonesia_Australia's defense minister on Friday defended a controversial anti-terror plan in the face of criticism from its neighbors and pledged to improve military ties with Indonesia _ the world's most populous Muslim nation.

Australia announced Wednesday that it planned to closely monitor ships far beyond its territorial waters in a move to boost the country's defenses against possible terror attacks on its soil as well as its offshore oil and gas facilities.

But the plan quickly drew fire from Indonesia and New Zealand _ one of Australia's closest allies. Indonesia's Foreign Minister Hassan Wirjuda said Thursday the initiative "infringes on the country's archipelagic waters, where we have full sovereignty."

Under the new plan, to be implemented in March, all vessels that enter within 1,000 nautical miles (1,150 statute miles; 1,850 kilometers) of Australia will be required to present detailed information to Australian defense and customs authorities.

After meeting his Indonesian counterpart Juwono Sudarsono, Australia's Defense Minister Robert Hill tried to play down the controversy.

"There is no attempt to claim or extend jurisdiction," he told reporters.

"What we are seeking is to identify ships that want to visit Australian ports," he said. "We will be asking for further information about those ships at a time which will give us greater notice. We will talk to Indonesia further about the details of this information seeking proposition."

Hill also pledged to step up military ties with Indonesia, which he admitted had lagged behind other parts of their bilateral relationship.

"We are determined to build a defense relationship and military-military relationship particularly in areas where we have a mutual relationship whether it's in defeating terrorism which is a threat to us both or in other areas...such as increased maritime surveillance," Hill said.

Australia's relationship with Indonesia was badly damaged by Canberra's decision in 1999 to lead a multinational force into East Timor to restore law and order after the province voted for independence from Jakarta.

After the vote, Indonesian troops and pro-Jakarta militias went on a rampage, killing about 1,500 Timorese and leaving the half-island in ruins.

The two sides abandoned a security treaty and joint military training as a result of Australia's role in East Timor.

Australia has been considering negotiating a new treaty that would build on a memorandum of understanding on counterterrorism signed by Prime Minister John Howard and former Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri in 2002, in response to the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.

It has also worked closely with Indonesia to successfully investigate a string of terror attacks, including the Oct. 12, 2002 Bali bombings which killed 202 people, including 88 Australians.

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