Subject: AU: SAS to train with Indonesians

The Australian

SAS to train with Indonesians

Mark Dodd

February 02, 2007

THE SAS will hold joint counter-terrorism exercises with Jakarta's elite Kopassus special forces as part of a dramatic expansion of defence ties between Australia and Indonesia.

The thaw in relations, which had been frosty in the aftermath of Australia's post-ballot intervention in East Timor, follows a series of unannounced visits. The chief of the Indonesian navy, Admiral Slamet Soebijanto, was in Australia last March, and army chief General Joko Santoso arrived last November. Head of the Indonesian air force Air Chief Marshal Herman Prayitno is expected next month.

Senior Australian Defence Force commanders have also been to Jakarta.

In the first bilateral air exercise since 1999, the RAAF and Indonesian Air Force (TNI-AU) will hold maritime surveillance manoeuvres this year, although no date has been set.

The contacts underscore growing confidence in bilateral defence ties, which appear to have weathered a diplomatic storm triggered by Canberra's decision last year to grant sanctuary to a group of Papuan asylum-seekers.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and his Indonesian counterpart, Hassan Wirajuda, last November signed the Australia-Indonesia Security Treaty and increased co-operation between the defence forces quickly followed.

Details were confirmed this week by Indonesian ambassador Hamzah Thayeb in an exclusive interview with The Australian.

The first joint army counter-terrorism exercises since 1997 were held last February with another scheduled for this year.

A Defence spokeswoman said this would include counter-hijack and hostage recovery exercises involving the SAS and Kopassus.

Kopassus gained notoriety for its support for pro-Jakarta militias and its involvement in bloody post-ballot mayhem in East Timor in 1999.

But much has changed since, with the emergence of a common enemy - the terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah, whose leaders are wanted for a spate of bombings, including those in Bali in 2002 and 2005.

These closer ties come as the government-backed Australian Strategic Policy Institute yesterday called for the establishment of a national institute for counter-terrorism to provide leadership and policy direction.

Defence officials yesterday also confirmed "senior level links" with Kopassus including joint training involving "skills demonstrations and information exchanges".

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