Indonesia vice-president plays down Australia disputes

Indonesia vice-president plays down Australia disputes
Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (C) waves to people alongside first lady Ani Yudhoyono (L) and Vice President Boediono (R) during the country's 68th independence day celebrations at the presidential palace in Jakarta on August 17, 2013. Indonesia, the world's most populous Islamic country, gained its independence on August 17, 1945 following Dutch colonial rule.

SYDNEY - Indonesia's vice president on Sunday played down suggestions of a rift with Australia, shrugging off disputes over asylum-seekers and spying as normal neighbourly problems.

Since Tony Abbott's conservative govenment took office in September, relations between the strategic allies have been strained, mainly over how to deal with boatpeople heading for Australia via Indonesia.

They also took a hit after claims that Canberra's overseas diplomatic posts, including in Jakarta, were involved in a vast US-led surveillance network.

But Vice President Boediono denied the relationship had been damaged.

"It's normal for next-door neighbours to have problems," he said in an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

"I think Australians and Indonesians are quite committed to the long-term interests of both countries."

Boediono was in Australia last week and met Abbott, but said the asylum-seeker issue was not high on the agenda despite Jakarta's recent refusal to take about 60 boatpeople people picked up south of Java by an Australian vessel.

"We did not talk much about the asylum-seekers. Of course, there were some references to that," he said.

Stopping the influx of boatpeople who use Indonesia as a transit point was a key issue at September elections won by Abbott, who vowed to turn boats back to Indonesia when it was safe to do so.

The policy was received coolly by Jakarta. Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said last week that while Indonesia had accepted two boatloads of asylum-seekers in recent weeks, it had refused others, creating confusion.

Boediono would not discuss his views on the Australian policy of turning back boats, the ABC said.

But he did talk about the spying allegations, based on leaks by fugitive US intelligence analyst Edward Snowden.

Boediono told the broadcaster he raised concerns with Abbott about the Australian embassy in Jakarta being used for espionage.

"It is a public concern in Indonesia. And therefore we should find some joint ways to allay public concern," he said.

"Of course, we didn't go into details, but the willingness is there to look to the future with cooperation that will not risk the interests of each parties."

Boediono would not be drawn on whether Indonesia had ever spied on Australia.

"I certainly cannot guarantee anything about that kind of thing," he said.

"Certainly, as part of the Indonesian government, whatever we do in our embassy in any country will follow international law."

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