Sat, 09 Oct 1999

Alatas calls for cool heads in Indonesia-Australia ties

JAKARTA (JP): Indonesian Minister of Foreign Affairs Ali Alatas warned on Friday that ties between Indonesia and Australia were at historic lows and urged both sides to refrain from further aggravating the situation.

"Relations between Indonesia and Australia are at their lowest ebb in the history of the two countries.

"Both sides should cool down and attempt to reduce the heated atmosphere. Let the situation settle," he said.

The once close diplomatic ties between Jakarta and Canberra have been shattered by recent developments in East Timor.

Many Indonesians felt Australia was overzealous in blaming Indonesia for the violence which erupted in East Timor following the historic Aug. 30 referendum there, and suspected its motives for its apparent eagerness in sending troops to the territory.

In the wake of the ballot in East Timor, the Australian government issued several strong statements condemning the Indonesian government's failure to curb the violence in the territory. This was followed by the boycott of Indonesian products and services by several Australian trade unions.

Speaking after the swearing in of the Indonesian consulate generals for Hong Kong, the Philippines and Vietnam, Alatas lamented superfluous statements from both countries which further damaged ties.

"For example, there were certain statements which weren't appropriate from Australia, which were responded to by Indonesia. Then demonstrations followed," he said.

When asked about the International Force for East Timor's (Interfet) concern of pro-Jakarta militias based in neighboring East Nusa Tenggara launching attacks in East Timor, Alatas said Indonesia would not support such activities.

"However, if the integration fighters put up a struggle in East Timor itself, it would be difficult (for us) to stop them. At the most, we could probably try and convince them to express their discontent through political channels and not with weapons," Alatas said.

Meanwhile, Minister of Defense and Security/Indonesian Military (TNI) Commander Gen. Wiranto said he hoped the United Nations would send a peacekeeping force to East Timor comprised mainly of Asian countries when Interfet handed over security in the territory to the international body.

"The presence of Asian troops in the territory will be more easily accepted by a greater majority of the East Timorese due to their similar cultural values," TNI spokesman Maj. Gen. Sudrajat quoted Wiranto as saying. Wiranto met with his Philippine counterpart Gen. A.T. Reyes here on Friday.

Wiranto said an anti-Western sentiment was rife among East Timorese because of alleged irregularities in the UN-sponsored ballot on Aug. 30. The ballot was administered by the UN Mission in East Timor (UNAMET), of which Australians made up the majority.

Separately, National Police spokesman Brig. Gen. Togar M. Sianipar said on Friday the dossier of Australian citizen Saul Francis Dalton, who illegally entered Timika, Irian Jaya, would be handed over to the local prosecutor's office within a week.

Togar said Dalton was not currently being detained because police had no reason to hold him.

"We have his passport with us. He's not going anywhere," Togar said at National Police Headquarters.

Togar said the Australian, who entered Irian Jaya with a UNAMET visa, would be charged with spreading hatred against the Indonesian government, overstaying his visa and carrying a sharp weapon. (ylt/rms/mds)