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Australian PM Positive on Indonesia Visit, Despite Snub from Legislators - 2002-02-07

On the second day of his visit to Indonesia, Australian Prime Minister John Howard signed a Memorandum of Understanding on fighting terrorism with Jakarta. The two countries agreed to share intelligence and cooperate in combating international terrorism. Mr. Howard said his visit to Indonesia has been very positive, despite a snub from the country's two top legislators.

Amien Rais, the speaker of Parliament's Upper House, canceled a meeting with Mr. Howard, and accused Australia of backing an independence movement in Indonesia's Papua province. Mr. Howard strongly denied Mr. Rais's claims. He said he met with Mr. Rais informally at a state dinner Wednesday evening and had a "very pleasant discussion."

The speaker of the Lower House, Akbar Tandjung, also refused to meet with Mr. Howard. The Australian prime minister hailed the signing of the anti-terrorism agreement. He stressed that it is about cooperating against terrorism and not about Australia interfering in the domestic affairs of Indonesia. "It's an important expression of cooperation between the two countries about an issue that is important to the whole world and especially important to our region," he said. "It will open up opportunities of cooperation and information sharing between various agencies in Australia and Indonesia and I welcome that development very much." Mr. Howard said the two countries eventually will resume high-level military relations, which were suspended after the Indonesian military backed militias that ravaged East Timor when the territory voted for independence in 1999. He said he discussed the matter with Indonesia's top security minister, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and foreign minister Hassan Wirayuda Thursday morning. Mr. Howard said the two countries also agreed to establish a forum for the exchange of ideas among Muslim leaders in Australia and Indonesia. "It's a recognition of the importance of a better understand of the role and place of Islam in the world and not least in Indonesia," he said, "and also a recognition that Australians of Islamic faith constitute a very important and valued part of Australian society." Mr. Howard is scheduled to meet with Muslim leaders later Thursday before returning to Australia Friday.