Indonesia has suspended military co-operation with Australia following an incident at an Australian army training facility last year that caused Indonesian offence.
Defence Minister Marise Payne confirmed that the Indonesian government had raised concerns about some Australian “teaching materials and remarks” at the Perth base, which were reportedly witnessed by an Indonesian there for training.
“The Australian Army has looked into the serious concerns that were raised and the investigation into the incident is being finalised,” Senator Payne said in a statement.
Indonesia’s military spokesman Major-General Wuryanto told Fairfax Media that co-operation had been temporarily halted for “technical reasons” and that, while the teaching materials were a factor, “this is not the basic reason for the suspension”.
“Indonesia and Australia will resolve this technical matter and then the co-operation will continue,” he said.
Reuters reported a spokesman for Indonesian President Joko Widodo said there had been no discussion of the suspension with the president and the issue had been exaggerated.
“This was not a decision of the president,” it quoted spokesman Johan Budi as saying.
Indonesian news outlet Kompas reported the suspension was triggered when a Kopassus trainer, who was in Australia as an army Indonesian language lecturer, found teaching materials that were ridiculing the Indonesian military.
When he went to the head of the academy in Australia to complain, the trainer reportedly found other writing insulting the Indonesian state ideology of Pancasila.
Pancasila is the Indonesian state philosophy that lays out the nation’s broad principles of religion, civilised humanity, social justice, democracy, and unity.
Senator Payne said the Chief of the Defence Force, Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin, wrote last year to his Indonesian counterpart, Commander Gatot Nurmantyo, promising to address the matter.
“Indonesia has informed Australia that defence co-operation would be suspended. As a result, some interaction between the two Defence organisations has been postponed until the matter is resolved. Co-operation in other areas is continuing,” she said.
A source told Fairfax Media that some of the offending materials, if true, appeared to be truly insulting while others seemed to be scholarly critical assessments of the Indonesian military’s past behaviour in 1965 or the East Timor invasion.
The executive director of the Institute for Defence, Security and Peace Studies in Indonesia, Mufti Makarim, told Fairfax Media that after the trainer reported the offensive materials to his superiors when he returned to Indonesia, the military requested it be investigated.
Kompas reported that a cable instruction, dated December 29 from Commander Gatot Nurmantyo, instructed that all military co-operation, including training with the Australian Defence Force, be suspended.
Mr Mufti said that according to an unconfirmed notification on messenging app Whatsapp, believed to be circulated by the Indonesian military, the trainer’s superior requested the investigation on December 9. He asked that joint training be suspended until the investigation was complete.
According to the Whatsapp circular, the Kopassus Indonesian language trainer 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 which said 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 Whatsapp circular says.
“It is a fair request by the Indonesian military that an investigation be held,” Mr Mufti told Fairfax Media.
“I believe, I hope, that this does not reflect the Australian attitude towards the Indonesian military and this just indicates a lack of oversight of teaching materials,” he said.
On December 29, Tribun news reported that Commander Gatot Nurmantyo said a co-operation program in which an Indonesian language lecturer had been sent to Australia, ended with an apology from Australia.
He reportedly said the Indonesian language teacher had been asked to give homework to his students that included Free Papua propaganda.
“That Papua is Melanesia, therefore it should be its own country. So I pulled (the teacher),” Commander Gatot reportedly said to applause from the audience.
Senator Payne said the government was working with Indonesia “to restore full co-operation as soon as possible” and that the broader bilateral relationship is in “very good shape with extensive co-operation across a wide range of government agencies”.
Indonesian security analyst Yohanes Sulaiman said Indonesia valued its military links with Australia and had sought to rebuild the relationship after previous diplomatic rifts.
In 2013 Jakarta pulled the plug on all military co-operation in retaliation for the Abbott government’s refusal to explain the phone tapping of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
In 2014 the countries struck a deal to resume military and intelligence co-operation.
“I’m not sure this will mean a complete breakdown,” Mr Sulaiman said.
Indonesian Defence analyst Natalie Sambhi said the Indonesian military was treating this as a serious issue. “The Australian and Indonesian militaries have had a long yet complicated history of co-operation and tension over the decades,” she said.
“The current TNI (Indonesian military) chief, General Gatot Nurmantyo, has been critical of Australia during his tenure which appears to stem from sensitivities related to our role in East Timor. While this sentiment exists elsewhere in TNI leadership and has to be understood against the context of the military’s experiences in the province, it is not the sole factor for Nurmantyo’s decision, but could be a factor in the option to suspend ties as a stronger political statement.”
She said Australian Defence Force and TNI (Indonesian military) ties comprised a complex web of bilateral and multilateral training exercises, education exchanges in both Australia and in Indonesia, dialogues and discussions, as well as operational co-operation in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, including the search for MH370.