Indonesia and Australia signed a new security agreement yesterday aimed at warming their often chilly relations and boosting cooperation on anti-terrorism, border security and intelligence.
The wide-ranging pact, signed by Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda and his Australian counterpart, Alexander Downer, also formally recognizes Indonesia's sovereignty over its sprawling archipelago -- a clause demanded by Jakarta amid long-standing suspicions that Australia is sympathetic to the country's separatist movements.
The deal marks an improvement in ties, which all but collapsed in 1999 over East Timor's break from Indonesia and Australia's deployment of troops there to quell unrest.
Although relations have gradually improved since then, they were again strained over Australia's decision to accept a boatload of asylum seekers from Indonesia's restive Papua province this year.
Foreign ministers from both nations were due to sign the deal on Lombok last night. It is the first formal security agreement between the two countries since Indonesia scrapped the previous treaty during the East Timor crisis in 1999.
The deal, under negotiation for two years, covers 10 key areas such as defense, law enforcement, counter-terrorism, intelligence, energy, aviation and maritime security and emergency aid.
Australian opposition politicians and non-government groups fear that the pact, which requires both countries not to support separatists, will give Indonesia a free hand to suppress groups seeking Papuan independence, something Canberra has denied.
Australian Defense Minister Brendan Nelson pledged on Sunday that the pact would not lead to his country's intelligence being used against Papuan separatists.
The document still requires the approval of both nation's parliaments.
Arief Budiman, professor of Indonesian studies at Melbourne University, said it was a sensible move by Canberra to seal the pact despite some reservations.
"At present, if Australia is concerned about the way Jakarta treats the Papuan people, it is better that Australia raises it as a human rights issue, not as a justification to support an independence struggle of these Papuan people," Budiman said.