The chief of the Indonesian military General Moeldoko has told the Jakarta Post he discussed Australia’s policy of turning back asylum seeker boats with Defence Force chief David Hurley.
“I have agreed. Therefore, we don’t need to feel offended,” the senior military commander told the newspaper.
This is significant, as the comments are at odds with statements made by senior Indonesian politicians. A spokesman for the office of Indonesia’s Coordinating Legal and Security Affairs Minister has said there was no agreement between the two countries on the policy.
Indonesian foreign minister Marty Natalegawa also said there was no deal and rejected the measure, after it was reported two boats were allegedly forced back into Indonesian waters. He said this week: “On the push-back policy itself, let me put on record our rejection of the policy. Pushing back the boats is not a solution.”
To give this some context, late last year there was a diplomatic blowup after media reports revealed an Australian spy agency tapped the Indonesian president’s phone. There is also a national election coming up, and several commentators have pointed out there may be a degree of chest-beating with the polling date drawing closer.
Asylum seekers were a major election issue. This led to some rhetoric that rankled Jakarta, where some politicians felt Australian policies breached the country’s sovereignty.
Also, while there wasn’t an official agreement signed, if the boats were in fact turned back, it’s unlikely Indonesian authorities would be left in the dark. There’s a big difference between public comments and what goes on behind the scenes.
Though the remarks in the Jakarta Post (below) are at odds with the statements made by the politicians:
“Following [our] halted military cooperation with Australia, the country’s Defence Force chief called me to discuss several issues, including how to deal with the boat people,” General Moeldoko told the paper.
“I have agreed. Therefore, we don’t need to feel offended.“
You can read the full Jakarta Post article here.
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