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Indonesia suspends military relationship with Australia

Indonesian soldiers hold up headbands in the color of the national flag during a military-sponsored interfaith rally. Source AAP.
Indonesian soldiers hold up headbands in the color of the national flag during a military-sponsored interfaith rally. Source AAP.

INDONESIA said Wednesday it has suspended military co-operation with Australia, reportedly due to training materials deemed offensive, in a fresh flare-up of tensions between the neighbours.

Cooperation including military exercises and education and exchange programs were put on hold last month, said Indonesian military spokesman Wuryanto.

"Military co-operation with Australian forces has been suspended temporarily due to technical matters," the spokesman, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, told AFP.

Indonesian newspaper Kompas said it came after an instructor from Indonesia's special forces found training materials he thought were disrespectful towards his country and armed forces at an Australian academy during an exchange program.

Wuryanto refused to confirm this, saying only that the suspension was due to several problems.

Marise Payne, Minister for Defence, released a statement this afternoon saying the matter would be investigated. She said the Australian Chief of the Defence Force, Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin, wrote to his Indonesian counterpart, General Gatot Nurmantyo, promising Australia would look into the matter. He said a report into the incident was being finalised.

"Indonesia has informed Australia that defence cooperation would be suspended. As a result, some interaction between the two Defence organisations has been postponed until the matter is resolved. Cooperation in other areas is continuing," Senator Payne said in her statement.

"Australia is committed to building a strong Defence relationship with Indonesia, including through cooperation in training. We will work with Indonesia to restore full cooperation as soon as possible."

The neighbours are key allies but the relationship has had many ups and downs. Ties sank to their lowest level in years under former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott due to rows about Jakarta's execution of Australian drug smugglers and Canberra's hard line policy of turning migrant boats back to Indonesia.

Indonesia had previously suspended military exercises with Australia, in 2013, due to allegations that Australian spies tried to tap the phone of then Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, but they resumed the following year.

Wuryanto said the Indonesian military sent a letter to the Australian Defence Force on December 9 notifying them of the suspension.

"Hopefully the problem will be resolved soon," he said, adding that the Indonesian military was still in communication with the Australian forces.

It was the first serious row between the neighbours for some time, with relations having improved since Malcolm Turnbull became Australia's leader in 2015.

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