Sat, 25 Jan 2003

House approves Australia's new ambassador

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The House of Representatives (DPR) has finally approved the appointment of senior Australian diplomat David Ritchie to serve as the new Australian Ambassador to Indonesia, replacing Richard Smith.

The ambassador-designate, who is expected to present his credentials to President Megawati Soekarnoputri next month, is due to preside over a ceremony marking Australia Day at the neighboring country's embassy next Monday.

House foreign affairs committee chairman Ibrahim Ambong said Friday that the House had sent a letter of approval to the President during its recess in December.

"There is no problem (with his appointment as Australian ambassador to Jakarta). The most important thing is for him to improve Australia's relations with Jakarta," Ambong told The Jakarta Post.

Previously, there was anxiety in certain circles that Ritchie, who was born in Papua New Guinea, might try to promote the separatist cause in Papua.

The House appeared to deliberately delay its approval of Richie, who has been in the Jakarta for about two months.

Ambong added that the House gave its approval for Ritchie after the Indonesian government convinced legislators that he would not promote separatism in Papua, but rather would strive to improve relations between Canberra and Jakarta.

Ritchie joined the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs in 1975. He served as third secretary in the Australian embassy in Bonn (1975-1978), first secretary in Berlin (1981-1983), first secretary in Nairobi (1986-1988), and acting high commissioner in Lusaka (August-September 1988).

From December 1999 to February 2001, Ritchie served as a senior adviser on international relations at the office of the Australian prime minister.

He was educated at the University of Queensland and is married with two children.

Relations between Indonesia and Australia have been on a roller-coaster ride for years. Many people consider that relations between the two countries reached their zenith when Paul Keating was Australian prime minister and Soeharto was still president.

Relations between the two hit rock bottom when Australia moved into East Timor to put a halt to pro-Jakarta militia violence in the former Indonesian province.

Since then, relations have been gradually improving, although they slumped again when Prime Minister John Howard said that Australia might be forced to take preemptive action to combat terrorists based in other countries.