April 3, 2006

Australia says sensitive to tense Indonesia ties

CANBERRA (Reuters) - Australia hopes to gradually rebuild
communications with Indonesia after a row sparked by Canberra's
decision to give asylum to 42 refugees from Indonesia's Papua
province, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said on Tuesday.

"We have to work through this period and I think from our
point of view ... we just have to be cautious and sensitive
about this," Downer told Australian Broadcasting Corporation

"I think it's just best to take things cautiously and
calmly and not rush into anything."

Indonesia called its ambassador back from Canberra for
consultation after the Australian decision last month, and
there have been acrimonious comments from politicians and media
on both sides.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said on
Monday he would review Jakarta's relationship with Canberra,
questioned Australia's support for Indonesian sovereignty, and
said doubt had been cast on a deal to cooperate on illegal

"I think we just let things plod along for a little while
and gradually rebuild our communications," Downer said.

"We can understand why they're upset, but of course what
we're trying to explain to them is that this has no
implications for our recognition of Papua as a full part of the
Republic of Indonesia."

Papuan independence activists have campaigned for more than
30 years to break away from Indonesia, while a low-level
rebellion has also simmered. Some of the most prominent support
for the separatists is from organizations in Australia.

Human rights groups accuse Indonesia of widespread abuses
there, and the Papuans who sought asylum said they feared
becoming victims of genocide.

Jakarta denies such charges.

Traditionally volatile, ties between the two countries hit
a low in 1999, when Australia led peacekeepers into the former
Indonesian province of East Timor to quell militia violence.

But the relationship later improved with close
anti-terrorism cooperation after the 2002 bombings on the
Indonesian resort island of Bali which killed scores of
Australians, and Canberra's prompt aid following the
devastating tsunami of 2004.

Australia is also a major Indonesian trade partner, and
diplomatic and political analysts suggest the economic and
strategic ties of the neighbors are too important for the Papua
issue to do serious long-term damage.