Indonesia says only part of Australian cooperation halted

Of the Associated Press

JAKARTA, Indonesia — An Indonesian government minister clarified Thursday that the country was suspending only part of its military cooperation with Australia, as that country promised its investigation of an alleged insult of Indonesian beliefs was nearly complete.

Australian Defense Minister Marise Payne said the issue began in November, after an Indonesian military officer raised concerns about teaching materials and remarks made at an army language-training facility in western Australia.

Indonesia said Wednesday that it has suspended military cooperation with Australia indefinitely, but Security Affairs Minister Wiranto clarified a day later that only the language training was suspended.

“The incident in November offended our dignity as a nation,” Wiranto, who uses one name, told an afternoon news conference at the state palace. “Therefore we suspend language training at the special forces instead of the defense cooperation in a whole. That is very much different.”

The suspension had surprised Australians. Military ties between the nations have been relatively warm in recent years, having improved since Indonesia downgraded its relations with Australia in 2013 over the alleged bugging of phones belonging to Indonesia's president.

Indonesian military spokesman Maj. Gen. Wuryanto said an Indonesian instructor reportedly felt that a “laminated paper” on display at the facility was insulting. According to Indonesian media, the paper contained words that demeaned Indonesia's ideology of Pancasila — a set of vague principles that mandates belief in one God and unity among the country's 250 million people.

Wuryanto refused to comment later about the scale of the suspension but he pointed to comments from Indonesia's military commander posted on the army's website that were specific to the language program.

Referring to the content of the laminated paper, Gen. Gatot Nurmantyo said, “It was too painful to be explained.”

Nurmantyo said he “decided to withdraw the instructor and stop the program” after the Indonesian instructor reported about a writing mentioning Pancasila as “Pancagila” (five crazies) along with five mock and offending principles. He did not elaborate.

On Thursday, Payne was asked about reports that the material also suggested West Papua should be given independence from Indonesia, which is battling the remote region's separatist movement.

“The issue of West Papua was raised by the Indonesian defense minister, yes,” Payne told reporters.

Payne said completion of an investigation begun in November was “imminent” and the training material in question would be replaced. “We have indicated our regret that this occurred and that offense was taken,” she said.

Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo told reporters in Jakarta that his country's relationship with Australia remained good.

“Indonesia and Australia have agreed to respect each other, to appreciate each other and not interfere in each others’ domestic affairs,” Jokowi said. “We have already agreed on that and now I have ordered the minister of defense and the military chief to address the problem.”

The neighboring nations, though close partners on many issues including terrorism and trade, have long had a turbulent relationship. Tensions have repeatedly flared over Australia's policy of turning back boats to Indonesia that are carrying asylum seekers from other countries. Indonesia's use of the death penalty — which Australia opposes — has also strained ties, particularly in 2015 when Indonesia executed two Australians for drug crimes.

And in 1999, the relationship suffered one of its most serious blows after Australia led a U.N. military force into the former Indonesian province of East Timor following a bloody independence ballot.


Associated Press writers Kristen Gelineau in Sydney and Niniek Karmini in Jakarta, Indonesia, contributed to this report.

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