Mon, 24 Apr 2000

Border disputes impede Indo - Aussie relations

JAKARTA (JP): Udayana Military Commander Maj. Gen. Kiki Syahnakri admitted that various incidents occurring in the border between Indonesia and East Timor have impeded efforts to restore bilateral ties between Indonesia and Australia.

"The various problems that have emerged near the border shared by Indonesia and East Timor have no doubt affected efforts to restore Indonesia-Australia ties which were strained in the wake of the popular consultation in Lorosae (East Timor)," he said in Bali, on Saturday.

However, Kiki, whose command oversees that of Bali and East Nusa Tenggara -- which shares a border with East Timor -- noted that despite the various problems the Indonesian government and military must continue to maintain good relations with Australia.

"Efforts must be made to address all problems in Indonesia- Australia affairs so that things can return to their previous state of equanimity," he said as quoted by Antara on the sidelines of a ceremony inaugurating the Australian International School in Kerobokan, Bali.

Also present during the event was Vice President Megawati Soekarnoputri.

Relations between Jakarta and Canberra have hit bottom following the East Timor debacle.

While there have been signs of improvement in recent months, it was again jarred by the discovery that an Australian soldier assigned to the United Nations peacekeeping force in East Timor had ben involved in border espionage activities.

The Indonesian government through the Foreign Ministry issued on Wednesday a strong statement expressing "extreme concern" over the incident and "deeply deplored the recurrence of espionage activities involving Australian nationals".

The Foreign Ministry warned that such incidents only served to rattle normalization of bilateral ties.

No big deals

But Kiki tried to tone down the incidents, particularly after the head of the UN peacekeeping operations publicly apologized and pledged to dispel the Australian soldier.

Kiki said that from a military aspect the various incidents were not big problems which could impede efforts to restore relations between the two countries in the future.

"That they have remained an obstacle in the efforts to restore bilateral relations is merely the influence of political relations between the two countries," he remarked.

He said apart from the espionage incident, everything was calm and orderly along the East Timor border.

"Since the breaking up of the spy ring nothing else has occurred in the border areas," he said.

Vice President Megawati Sukarnoputri also expressed a conciliatory tone, pointing out that Indonesian and Australia have historically had good relations.

"Even if there are certain things now which have hurt the relationship between the two countries, then as an amiable nation we should focus on the friendly aspects which have been established for years," she said.

Speaking on the prospect of a high-level Indonesian delegation to Australia, Megawati said it was certainly possible if the moment was right.

"Dispatching an Indonesian governmental delegation to Australia to repair relations is a very real possibility. But we have to wait for the right moment. We don't want such a visit to fail in yielding any results" she added. (mds)