Indonesia, Australia Sign Landmark Treaty

MATARAM, Lombok ~ Indonesia and Australia signed a landmark security treaty this week aimed at smoothing often thorny relations between the two neighbors.

The treaty includes a key Indonesian demand that Australia will not support separatist causes in the archipelago, after Jakarta tore up a previous pact over Canberra’s support for independence for East Timor.

“The treaty was signed by Foreign Minister (Hassan) Wirayuda and Foreign Minister (Alexander) Downer at 7:15pm,” Foreign Ministry Spokesman Desra Percaya said in Lombok on Monday, where the signing took place.

“Everything discussed went in line with what was planned,” he added, without providing details.

The Foreign Ministry’s website quoted Wirayuda as having said here that the agreement contained several key principles to strengthen Indonesia’s and Australia’s bilateral ties.

The principles included “respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, non-interference of internal affairs, non-support of separatism and not turning their territory as a staging point for separatism.”

The minister also said the agreement would accommodate and develop existing bilateral cooperation in defense, law enforcement, counterterrorism, intelligence, maritime security, aviation safety and disaster emergency response.

Critics fear the new agreement to increase military and intelligence ties could see Australia aiding crackdowns on independence activists in the restive province of Papua.

But Australian Defense Minister Brendan Nelson rejected the concerns.

“That’s a highly provocative statement – most certainly not,” he said on Sunday.

The new agreement comes hard on the heels of a diplomatic row over Australia’s granting of asylum to 42 Papuan separatists early this year.

Environmentalists have also accused Australia of turning a blind eye to Indonesia’s plans to build nuclear power plants by agreeing to sign the treaty.

The treaty will also cover agreements on nuclear programs.

Indonesia’s nuclear power plans were shelved in 1997 in the face of mounting public opposition and the discovery and exploitation of the large Natuna gas field. But the plans were floated again last year amid growing power shortages.

“Australia is closing their eyes to the whole non-transparent process and only put forward their uranium export business aspect,” despite efforts to support democracy in Indonesia, the Indonesian Anti-Nuclear Community said.

“It is not fair for Australia to support Indonesia’s nuclear program but prohibit the industry in some of their own states,” Dian Abraham, a spokesman for the non-governmental organization, said.

“There seem to be no plans to consult the people in developing nuclear plans in Indonesia as written in the 1997 Nuclear Energy Act,” he said.

The treaty will have to be ratified by both nations’ parliaments.

Indonesia said the pact would act as an umbrella for bilateral cooperation, against a backdrop of often volatile relations between the two neighbors.

“This will become an umbrella” for security cooperation between two neighbors that had shared several diplomatic lows in past years, Percaya said, adding that an existing security agreement inked by the two countries in 1995 “could not answer the need for stability in bilateral relations.”

In the most recent incident to raise tensions between the two countries, Indonesia recalled its ambassador from Canberra earlier this year after Australia gave asylum rights to 42 separatists from Papua.

Jakarta accused Canberra of reneging on its frequent verbal recognition of Indonesia’s territorial integrity.

Indonesia won sovereignty over Papua, formerly a Dutch colony, in 1969 after a referendum widely seen as a sham.

Papuans have long accused Indonesia’s military of violating human rights in the province and complain that the bulk of earnings from its rich natural resources flow to Jakarta.

With the agreement, both sides would possess a strong legal basis to settle any dispute in the security arena, Percaya said.

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