Wed, 28 Jun 2000

Australia assures RI on new defense paper

JAKARTA (JP): Australia sought on Tuesday to preempt Indonesian concerns and suspicions as Canberra launched a new official document seeking to bolster its defense spending.

Coming less than a year after the two giant neighbors exchanged bitter words over East Timor, copies of the discussion paper, including the Indonesian translation, were released by the Australian Embassy to the Indonesian media.

Embassy officials said the paper, the basis for a new white paper to be drawn up later in the year, was presented to top officials in the Indonesian Military, the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs over two weeks ago.

The Defence Review 2000, Our Future Defence Force was launched by Australian Prime Minister John Howard in Canberra on Tuesday.

The public discussion paper, prepared by the Australian Department of Defence, calls for a significant increase in defense spending.

"This is not, I repeat, not, a response to the East Timor issue," Australian Ambassador John McCarthy told Indonesian journalists over a breakfast meeting at his residence.

The defense "green paper" had been planned since 1998, well before the East Timor row erupted, he said.

Last year, Indonesia accused Australia of harboring territorial ambitions when the latter made an about-face in its longstanding policy to support Jakarta's sovereignty claim on East Timor.

The suspicions reached a crescendo when East Timorese opted to leave Indonesia in a referendum in August and when Australia was picked by the United Nations to lead the international peacekeeping force to restore peace and order in the territory.

Relations have headed south since then and the Indonesian government abrogated a landmark 1995 umbrella agreement for all bilateral security cooperation programs.

Suspicions about Australia's military intentions continued this year, with Jakarta accusing Australian military planes of violating its airspace, and with the arrest of an East Timorese in Kupang, West Nusa Tenggara, who was working as an informant for a junior Australian officer in East Timor.

Last month, some politicians in Indonesia tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to find some Australian connections to the Papuan congress which closed with a declaration of independence for Indonesia's easternmost province of Irian Jaya.

"I want these suspicions to rest," McCarthy said in explaining the embassy's campaign to disseminate the public discussion paper in Indonesia.

The document underlines the importance of Indonesia's stability to Australia's national defense, he said. "We support the national integrity of Indonesia," he said.

The paper notes the changes taking place in Australia's giant northern neighbor, and stresses that these are Indonesia's domestic affairs.

"But Indonesia still faces significant economic, political and social challenges, including separatist and sectarian issues in some parts of the archipelago.

"These are internal matters for Indonesia, although Australia has a commitment to work with Indonesia to support its economic recovery and help foster conditions for stability in the region," the paper states.

The discussion paper tones down the suggestion in the existing white paper that Indonesia is construed as a possible threat to Australia's defense.

"Our most immediate strategic interests are in the arc of islands stretching from Indonesia and East Timor through Papua New Guinea to the islands of the Southwest Pacific."

According to the paper, "Any sustained conventional attack on Australia would need to come from or through these islands."

McCarthy said this was a statement of fact, not an attempt to single out any country as a major threat since there were no real threats to Australia from its south or southwest flanks.

The existing white paper simply refers to threats as coming from or through the archipelago to Australia's north, a reference which Indonesia did not take too kindly.

Australian defense attache Brig. Brian Millen said despite a formal termination of the 1995 defense cooperation agreement, some high-level contacts between the military forces of the two countries had continued to this day.

Many Indonesian officers continue to train in Australia and, likewise, many Australian officers come to Indonesia to attend courses, he said.

Logistic support cooperation, including the use of Indonesian refueling facilities for Australian jet fighters, continued even as Indonesia accused Australia of airspace violations, he said.

"There is a significant desire on both sides to develop a new relationship in our defense cooperation," Millen said.

"By the end of the year, something will happen," he added. (emb)