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Australia Ready to Resume Ties with Indonesia Special Forces - 2003-08-11


Australia says it is ready to renew military ties with Indonesia's special forces, ties that were severed in 1999 over alleged human rights abuses. The head of the Australian army says it is necessary to work with Jakarta's elite troops to fight terrorism in the Asia-Pacific region.

General Peter Cosgrove, the chief of Australia's Defense force, says a closer relationship with Indonesia's counter-terrorism units would save lives.

The elite Kopassus troops are responsible for hostage rescues in Indonesia and have broad anti-terror responsibilities.

Australian and Indonesian forces had strong ties during the 1990s. Canberra severed these links in September 1999 when pro-Jakarta militias trained by Indonesian soldiers went on a bloody rampage in East Timor in the weeks surrounding the province's vote for independence.

Kopassus, which has been accused of human rights abuses throughout Indonesia, was suspected of orchestrating much of the violence.

Defense Minister Robert Hill says Australia has in the past raised questions about human rights in Indonesia but can also work with Kopassus in fighting terrorism.

"You can, we believe, do both," said Minister Hill. "You can have that objective in mind whilst at the same time look to protect the interests of Australians and the citizens of other countries, including Indonesia, from terrorist operations. We believe that is a very worthwhile priority."

Closer ties between Canberra and its neighbor to the north would probably include counter-terrorism training by Australia's Special Forces.

Some military links exist already between the two countries but forging new ties with Kopassus will be politically sensitive in Australia. The troops are suspected of supporting the Islamic extremist group Laskar Jihad, which opposition politicians in Australia describe as a "semi-terrorist organization."

General Cosgrove's proposal for a closer relationship comes as Canberra and Jakarta are attempting to boost their efforts to fight extremism in the region together. Indonesia has been hit by two terror strikes in less than a year.

A car bombing at the J.W. Marriott Hotel in Jakarta last week killed 11 people and injured nearly 150. Last October, an attack on the island of Bali killed 202 people, including 88 Australians.

Both attacks have been blamed on Jemaah Islamiyah, a radical Muslim organization with links to al-Qaida.