FOREIGN AFFAIRS: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Australia, Indonesia to negotiate new treaty
, April 9, 2005
In December 2002, after Islamic terrorists bombed two nightclubs in Bali, killing over 200 people (including 89 Australians), the Prime Minister, John Howard, said that Australia would be prepared to launch a pre-emptive strike against terrorists in another country if he had evidence they were about to attack Australia.
At the time, his comments drew strong criticism from South-East Asian regional powers, including Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia; but subsequent developments in the region, including close co-operation in hunting down the Bali bombers, as well as Jemaah Islamiah (JI) cells responsible for the bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Jakarta and later, the Australian Embassy, reinforced the need for closer military and intelligence co-operation.Vital vote
The vital role of Australian defence personnel in the wake of the Aceh tsunami tragedy last December, and Australia's generous offer of $1 billion for Aceh's reconstruction cemented ties with Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim nation, which have been strengthened further by the provision of Australian aid following the latest earthquake on Nias Island, off the coast of Sumatra.
The visit by Indonesia's President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, to Australia is expected to lead to a broad-ranging treaty between the two countries, covering many aspects of the bilateral relationship. While security issues underpin the treaty, Indonesia is hoping to expand its economic ties with Australia. Indonesia's new Trade Minister, Dr Mari Pangestu said Australia-Indonesian relations were now at a "record high".
She told Radio Australia, "I think with the re-election of [Australian Prime Minister John Howard] as well as the new Indonesian President coming in just four months ago, there has been a serious effort to repair the tensions of the past ... and look forward.
"And I also believe that the Indonesian people have been very heartened by the very spontaneous response not just from the Australian government but from the Australian public, the Australian people and your defence operations in the post-tsunami relief package. I think that is also another reason why I do believe that our relationship is closer than it has ever been."
The close ties come at a time when there are increasing signs that Islamic terrorists who have been hunted down in Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia have regrouped, and are preparing new attacks in the region.
The United States and Britain recently issued travel advisories warning that Islamic terrorists were in the final stages of planning new terrorist attacks at unspecified targets in the Philippines, following the arrest of several JI operatives in the Philippines.
The Singapore government has warned that JI has expanded its network, and is working closely with similar groups in other countries, particularly the Philippines.
There were three explosions at crowded shopping malls and transport terminals in Manila and two cities in the south in February, in attacks claimed by Muslim rebel group Abu Sayyaf, which authorities believe to have received funding from the Jemaah Islamiah.
For many years, the Philippines has been fighting the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the largest Muslim rebel group with about 12,000 fighters, in the southern Philippines island of Mindanao.
Despite peace negotiations and a ceasefire between the MILF and Manila, guerillas connected with the group continue to provide training facilities for Islamic terrorists from other countries.
A new element in the re-emergence of Islamic terrorists was seen when 35 guerillas from the Free Aceh Movement seized a fully-laden gas tanker near Sumatra, taking the ship's captain as a hostage, last month.
The United States has been concerned, for some years, that terrorists could hijack one of the 50,000 ships which sail through the Straits of Malacca every year, and use it as a massive bomb which could be used to inflict major damage on international shipping or on land targets in Malaysia and Indonesia. As a result, the two nations are stepping up naval patrols in the region to meet the potential threat.
While Australia has no direct role in policing the Straits of Malacca, it is vitally concerned about possible disruption of international shipping by terrorists, as most of Australia's oil and natural gas, coal and iron ore shipments, pass through Indonesian territorial waters, en route to north Asia.