Indonesia announces freeze in ties with Australia

Indonesia announces freeze in ties with Australia
The mood in Jakarta on Wednesday was reflected clearly in the faces of President Yudhoyono, Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa (left) and Indonesia's Ambassador to Australia Nadjib Riphat Kesoema, who had been recalled home.

INDONESIA has called a halt to military, information and intelligence exchanges with Australia as bilateral ties hit a new low over disclosures that Canberra had tapped the cellphones of top Indonesian leaders.

Also affected are coordinated sea patrols between the two countries to combat people smuggling, pending an official explanation from Australia over such spying practices, which were disclosed by media reports earlier this week.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, in a bid to drive home Jakarta's anger, went on national television yesterday to announce the freeze in bilateral ties.

"It is not possible for us to continue such cooperation if we cannot be confident there will not be surveillance of our officers on these occasions," he said.

Dr Yudhoyono, who dispatched a formal letter to Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Wednesday night, also called for a binding code of conduct that would govern future exchanges between both neighbours.

There was no immediate response from Mr Abbott. The Reuters news agency quoted an Australian Defence Department spokesman as saying that the ministry was seeking clarification on the latest announcements from Jakarta.

Top Indonesian diplomat Marty Natalegawa said relations with Australia had already been downgraded, adding: "We are turning off the tap by degrees."

The current spat between both countries - the worst in years - was sparked by media reports on Monday that Australia had tapped the phones of Dr Yudhoyono, his wife, and eight other Indonesian officials in August 2009.

Dr Yudhoyono hit out at Mr Abbott for belittling the matter and lacking remorse. He has also recalled Indonesia's ambassador to Australia.

But some Indonesian MPs are calling for an even tougher response, urging him to expel the Australian ambassador in Jakarta. Mr Abbott is also under pressure domestically to apologise and mend the rift.

There was no resolution in sight yesterday as Dr Yudhoyono met several top ministers to discuss the row.

He noted that ties between both countries and their peoples have grown stronger in recent years, and said it was difficult for him to understand why such surveillance was still going on.

"This is no longer the Cold War," he said. "Indonesia and Australia are not enemies."

zakirh@sph.com.sg

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