April 4, 2006

Australia says Indonesia ties will survive row

CANBERRA (Reuters) - Australia and Indonesia's ties are too
important to be hurt by a row over Canberra's decision to give
asylum to 42 refugees from Indonesia's Papua region and the
neighbors' strained bonds will recover, Australia said on

Prime Minister John Howard said he had taken "careful note"
of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's request that
Canberra and Jakarta hold talks to review their relationship
and ensure ties continue in good faith, honesty and openness.

"I have no doubt that we will sail through fairly
effectively and with relative speed the current difficulty we
have," Howard told a joint news conference with Dutch Prime
Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, who also plans to visit

"But I don't want to play it down, I do understand
Indonesia's sensitivity," he said.

In a live broadcast on Monday, Yudhoyono said Jakarta and
Canberra's relationship needed to be reviewed. He also
questioned Australia's support for Indonesian sovereignty and
said doubt had been cast on a deal to cooperate on illegal

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

The Papuan asylum seekers were found in late January on
Cape York, Australia's northernmost point, after sailing for
five days in a traditional outrigger with a banner accusing the
Indonesian military of conducting genocide in their homeland.

Australian Treasurer Peter Costello urged Indonesia to
accept the decision by Australia's Immigration Department, just
as Canberra had accepted the recent convictions of 11
Australians on drug charges on the Indonesian holiday island of

"There are occasions when Indonesian courts make decisions
which Australians don't like. We recognize that that is their
legal system and we don't let that come in the way of a good
relationship," Costello said.

"And we shouldn't let this issue come in the way of a good
relationship. This relationship is too important for anything
like that to knock it off course."

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.

"Indonesia and Australia are close and we have a lot at
stake in our common partnership in this part of the world,"
Howard said.