Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Lombok Agreement

On 13 November, the foreign ministers of Indonesia and Australia signed a security pact between the two countries. Hassan Wirajuda and Alexander Downer signed the agreement on the resort island of Lombok, which gives its name to the agreement. It is the first formal agreement between the countries since Indonesia tore up the Suharto-Keating agreement of 1995 four years later during the East Timor crisis.

Tensions between the countries were exacerbated earlier this year Australia granted temporary protection visas to 43 Papuan asylum-seekers. Indonesia recalled its ambassador from Canberra in protest at what they saw as interference in an internal matter. Now both countries have pledged not to support any activities which threaten the "stability, sovereignty or territorial activity" of the other. This includes separatist groups operating in their own territories. The Indonesia foreign minister Wirajuda said he didn't want to see Australia become a staging point for secessionist groups. Downer said that any break-up of Indonesia would be a disaster not only for Indonesia but “for the whole region including Australia.”

The seven page treaty took two years to negotiate and codifies a series of memorandums on co-operation in the fields of defence and law enforcement co-operation already in place between the two countries. It covers ten points of mutual interest including cooperation on defence, law enforcement, counter terrorism, intelligence, energy, and emergency aid.

Although Downer said the new pact would not affect the right of individual citizens to support separatist movements, this view was not shared on the Indonesian side. Amris Hassan, deputy head of Indonesia's parliamentary committee on foreign affairs, said: "In future, if there is an asylum-seeker problem, we will now have a legally binding agreement so there can be no more fooling around."

Wirajuda took great pains to stress the Lombok Agreement was not a mutual-defence treaty. Instead he saw it as a framework of cooperation and consultation on security issues that concern both countries. According to Wirajuda, the agreement on security cooperation was based on Indonesia's need to incorporate an agreement containing Australia's recognition of Indonesia's sovereignty and a statement not to support any separatist movement in Indonesia. The Indonesians see the treaty as an enhancement of bilateral relations including the mutual respecting territorial sovereignty, non-interference in domestic affairs and probably most importantly, no support of separatist movements.

Downer told reporters that Australian government was "delighted" to sign the agreement. "What this does is provide a bedrock for the relationship for many years to come." He said. In a media release Downer stated the agreement provides a strong legal framework for encouraging co-operation in areas of defence, law enforcement, counter-terrorism, intelligence, maritime and aviation security, and in relation to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and emergency management and response.

Critics of the new agreement say it is a deliberate attempt to prevent Australia from responding to human rights violations in West Papua. In January this year 43 Papuans landed on the northern Australian shoreline of Cape York peninsula. Jakarta appealed to the Australian Government to send them back. The refugees accused the Indonesian military of genocide in their homeland which was taken over Indonesia in the 1960s after a rigged election. Despite Indonesian protest, Canberra issued visas to the refugees in an act described by Indonesia as an “unfriendly gesture”.

The president of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) in Australia, John Dowd, says there was not enough public debate in Australia about the treaty and serious concerns remain over Indonesia’s handling of its jurisdiction over West Papua. "I can see no basis for a treaty with a country that's not under attack and we're not under attack," he told the ABC. "I think it's a mask for assisting their military." The leader of the Australian Greens Bob Brown said the treaty was an "obsequious concession to Jakarta", which will prevent Australia from helping to bring democracy to the region.

The treaty now needs to be ratified by the parliaments of both countries. That could yet take some considerable time. The 1997 Perth agreement which covered oil rights in the seas between the two countries has not yet been ratified in Indonesia or Australia.

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