Indonesia’s defence minister has sought to play down a suspension of military ties between Australia and Indonesia, stressing it was important to keep a good relationship between the two countries.
Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu stressed that Indonesia’s relationship with Australia was “fine” after the shock announcement that defence co-operation had been halted after an Indonesian military officer was offended by material at an Australian military base in Perth.
The offensive material is understood to include homework that suggested West Papua was part of Melanesia and should be given independence and material that ridiculed Indonesia’s national ideology, Pancasila.
Mr Ryamizard said he was yet to speak to Defence Minister Marise Payne about the issue but planned to visit Australia at the end of the month.
“The point is to keep a good relationship between the countries. Don’t let insignificant rats disrupt the relationship between countries. That’s not good.”
Meanwhile a spokesman for Indonesian President Joko Widodo told Reuters: “This was not a decision of the president”.
Several hours after the story broke, Senator Payne released a carefully worded statement saying that Indonesia had informed Australia that defence cooperation would be suspended after “serious concerns” were raised.
“As a result some interaction between the two defence organisations has been postponed until the matter is resolved,” she said.
Indonesia’s chief military commander Gatot Nurmantyo told a public lecture late last month that an Indonesian language teacher from special forces had been given homework that said Papua was part of Melanesia and should be given independence.
“I pulled the teacher. The (Australian) commander apologised to me,” he said at the headquarters of Muhammadiyah, Indonesia’s second largest civil organisation. Commander Gatot’s comments were greeted with applause.
A source told Fairfax Media that the issue was supposed to have been dealt with quietly but “Gatot jumped the gun”.
Commander Gatot has been critical of Australia in the past, suggesting in March 2015 that East Timor’s seceding from Indonesia was part of a proxy war for Australia to secure oil.
The Indonesian military officer was understood to have been deeply shocked after reading an essay about West Papua independence.
Mr Ryamizard said the Australian lieutenant who had been studying Indonesian had been reprimanded.
“West Papua is absolutely the red hot issue – the problem is the extraordinary parallel with East Timor from their perspective,” said John Blaxland, a Professor of International Security and Intelligence at Australian National University.
“There is a sense of Australia being untrustworthy – in 1975 they did a deal with Indonesia that they would respect its sovereignty over East Timor and in 1999 they stabbed it in the back.”
He said the only way Australia and Indonesia were able to sign the Lombok treaty for security cooperation in 2006 was by Australia officially recognising Indonesian sovereignty over West Papua.
“So this essay would be seen as treasonous,” Professor Blaxland said.
According to information circulated on a messaging app, the officer also heard offensive material in class including that the late Indonesian military leader Sarwo Edhie Wibowo was a mass murderer and that a TNI police officer murdered his friend while drunk.
He also reportedly saw a laminated piece of paper inscribed with the word, Pancagila, an offensive mockery of Indonesia’s state ideology, Pancasila, which basically translates as “five crazy principles”.
“After he returned to Indonesia, he immediately made a report,” the messaging app circular says.
The executive director of the Institute for Defence, Security and Peace Studies in Indonesia, Mufti Makarim, told Fairfax Media he heard the offensive material was related to Sarwo Edhie Wibowo being a mass murderer, West Papua and East Timor.
“It should not have been something the Australian army was discussing,” Mr Mufti said.
“Given the sensitivity, Australia has been very careful not to talk about (West Papua) in other forums. So why the double standard in internal army discussions? Their foreign policy is as if they are supporting Indonesian sovereignty but on the other hand they are discussing the disintegration of Indonesia with Papua being part of Melanesia.”
Mr Mufti said if Australia was consistent, its foreign policy should be reflected in other bodies, including the military.”