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Indonesia: likely reaction to security agreement that is to be signed with Australia

JOHN HIGHFIELD: Let's go to Jakarta, now. And it appears that there's not a lot known, at this stage, about this agreement in some official circles, at least, in Indonesia. ABC Jakarta correspondent, Michael Maher, has joined us on the line. Michael, you've checked, I think, up there with the Defence Department. What do they know?

MICHAEL MAHER: ... Minister earlier today, and he wasn't aware that such an agreement had been struck. When I told him about it, he said he thought it was very positive but he did emphasise that it was not a pact or a treaty and rather an agreement confined to consultation on defence issues. Perhaps it's not surprising, here in Jakarta where information isn't readily available, that so much secrecy has surrounded this agreement. In fact, there hasn't even been an informal announcement here, in Jakarta. But at the moment, President Suharto and his Foreign Minister, Ali Alatas, are in Bangkok and, of course, they are two very key figures in any negotiation to this agreement.

JOHN HIGHFIELD: Well, you're going to have the Australian head of government, Prime Minister Paul Keating, in Jakarta on Monday to see President Suharto. They obviously have a very good relationship and this directly grows out of that relationship.

MICHAEL MAHER: Yes. I think that's quite clear, and as Mr Keating has made clear, this agreement has been negotiated over a period of some 18 months. Mr Keating has been up here some five times since he became Prime Minister, so the two do have what seems to be a close relationship and, certainly, it's one of the best relationships that any Australian Prime Minister or Indonesian President has had.

JOHN HIGHFIELD: Well, at the general public level, of course, these things are much more noted in Australia. I suppose it takes a longer time for these things to filter out into the general public arena beyond official circles in Jakarta. What do you think the likely reaction would be amongst Indonesians towards a closer relationship in a strategic sense with Australia?

MICHAEL MAHER: Well, I think we've seen a trend towards this closer defence relationship between the two countries over the past couple of years. I think what people would be concerned about is that Indonesia's non-aligned status is not affected by this agreement. Of course, Indonesia is a very prominent member of the non-aligned movement. In fact, President Suharto has just completed the chairmanship of that group. And a number of defence analysts I spoke to this morning were concerned to make sure that this wasn't a pact or a treaty, that in fact it was solely an agreement to consult on defence issues and would not entail any sort of alliance obligations. So I think once that is made clear, I think that people generally will probably see it as a positive thing.

The other thing to point out, of course, is that the United States has stopped training Indonesian military officers as a result of human rights concerns. Now, Australia does train Indonesian officers. Australia is quite a handy place for many Indonesian military personnel in terms of training and certainly getting that higher education at officer level.

JOHN HIGHFIELD: Do you think that there will be disappointment amongst the very small minority, I know, but the people who are critical of human rights inside Indonesia?

MICHAEL MAHER: I think so. I think the response among those groups will be much the same as the response that you're hearing from pro-independent East Timorese groups in Australia. They will describe it as Australia kowtowing to Indonesia, but those sorts of views aren't very prominently expressed, certainly in the major islands of Java and Sumatra. So I think that, overwhelmingly, you're going to have a pretty positive response towards this agreement, but with the proviso, as I said, that this doesn't constitute any sort of alliance, that it doesn't affect Indonesia's non-aligned status.

JOHN HIGHFIELD: The ABC's Jakarta correspondent, Michael Maher.