Sun, 09 Mar 2003

RI, Australia to meet for ties improvement

Fabiola Desy Unidjaja, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Dozens of Indonesian and Australian officials will meet here on Sunday to prepare for the two countries' annual consultation forum scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, with the aim of forging cooperation in different fields and resolving crucial issues that have strained bilateral ties.

The day-long meeting on Sunday between middle-ranking officials and expert staff from the two countries will take place at the Borobudur Hotel. The main agenda of the meeting will be discussions on how to enhance cooperation in the areas of agriculture, fisheries, investment, tourism and education.

"There will be 13 working groups discussing fisheries, trade and investment, education and other areas of technical cooperation," Marty Natalegawa, spokesman for the foreign affairs ministry, said here on Saturday.

All of the issues discussed during the preparatory meeting will be brought up for further discussion when senior officials from the countries meet on Monday. During ministerial-level meetings on Tuesday, these new cooperations are scheduled to be approved.

At least 14 ministers from the two countries are scheduled to attend the meetings on Tuesday.

The Indonesian delegation, which will be led by Coordinating Minister for the Economy Dorodjatun Kuntjoro-Jakti, will include Minister of Foreign Affairs Hassan Wirayuda, Minister of Defense Matori Abdul Djalil, Minister of Industry and Trade Rini Suwandi and Minister of Agriculture Bungaran Saragih.

The Australian delegation, led by Minister of Foreign Affairs Alexander Downer, will include Minister of Trade Mark Vaile, Minister of Defense Robert Hill, Minister of Immigration Philip Ruddock, Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Warren Truss, Minister of Industry, Tourism and Resources Ian Macfarlane and Attorney General Daryl Williams.

Several regional and international issues, including the Iraq crisis, are likely to be included on the main agenda of the preparatory meeting.

"The meeting is aimed at enhancing the two countries' bilateral ties, and the Iraq crisis is among the crucial issues expected to be discussed," Marty said.

The consultation forum, which began in 1992, is a major event that allows top officials from the two countries to take concrete steps to forge cooperation and improve ties between Jakarta and Canberra.

Bilateral ties between the two countries have suffered recently. Despite Australian Prime Minister John Howard's recent visit to Jakarta, Indonesia remains uneasy about Australia's support for the U.S. in the Iraq crisis. Jakarta also has protested Australian raids on Indonesian Muslims living in the country.

Another sensitive issue is Australia's continued travel advisory warning its citizens not to visit Indonesia. The advisory was issued after the Oct. 12, 2002, Bali bombings that killed more than 200 people, almost half of them Australians.

Indonesian also remains suspicious of Canberra's role in East Timor's break from Indonesia in 1999 and cautious of groups in Australia believed to be supporting the separatist movement in Papua.

Apart from these crucial issues concerning the two countries' bilateral ties, the Australian government honored Indonesian National Police chief. Gen. Da'i Bachtiar for the police's investigation into the Bali attacks.