By Jon Land
Military cooperation between Australia and Indonesia has been boosted with Defence Minister Robert Ray and defence force chief Admiral Allan Beaumont's five-day visit to Indonesia. The high-level discussions, which began on August 1, follow the July 19 announcement by the Australian government to invite Indonesia to the Kangaroo '95 war games scheduled to take place in the Northern Territory.
Agreement was reached on developing a closer working military relationship through increased training, joint exercises and intelligence exchanges. The decision was made to formalise annual ministerial defence talks. The closer ties have been strongly backed by President Suharto, Vice-president Try Sutrisno, Defence Minister General Edi Sudrajat and armed forces chief General Feisal Tanjung.
Under the Defence Co-operation Program, Australia and Indonesia have steadily improved military ties over recent years. In August 1993 the biggest joint naval exercises took place off the coast of Darwin, followed two months later by the first ever joint air force exercises in Medan in Northern Sumatra.
Indonesia now has closer bilateral military ties with Australia than any other nation. With the United States' decision, in July, to restrict arms sales and training to Indonesia, Australia is well placed to fulfil many of Indonesia's military needs.
"They understand that our training is equal or better to that which can be received in the US. They also understand the potential for increasing the training with Australia," Ray told the August 2 Australian. Ray also met with Indonesian Research and Technology Minister Dr Habibie and toured defence and shipyard installations.
Indonesia has yet to announce whether it will participate in the Kangaroo '95 exercises — the largest war games ever to be held in Australia. But whatever its decision, joint exercises and training looks set to increase despite protests from the East Timorese community, human rights, church and solidarity groups in Australia over the role of the Indonesian military in East Timor.
Prior to his departure for Jakarta, Ray claimed that there had been an "immense improvement" in the human rights situation. But according to Sam Lazzaro from AKSI-Indonesia Solidarity Action any notion that the military in Indonesia has "improved" is absurd.
"The primary role of the military is an internal one — to suppress any voice of dissent. Look what happened to those who protested against the media bans. What of the workers, farmers and students that are continually harassed and beaten for organising against the Suharto regime? By strengthening the links with the Indonesian military the Australian government is helping keep the Indonesian pro-democracy movement in check," Lazzaro told Green Left Weekly.
"While the Indonesian military may no longer be killing people in the hundreds of thousands, why are figures of 50, 60 or 200 more acceptable? Training Indonesian armed forces here means we are assisting those responsible for brutal acts of violence," said Robert Samsa, a spokesperson for the Sydney Peace Squadron. He added that as the level of military co-operation between Indonesia and Australia increased, so too would the campaign against it by human rights and solidarity groups.