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Australia scrambles to heal military rift with Indonesia

Australia is set to finish a probe into an alleged insult of Indonesian state ideology. Indonesia suspended military cooperation after it said Canberra was trying to recruit soldiers sent to Australia for training.

The two neighbors revealed on Wednesday that military cooperation - including joint exercises and education and exchange programs - had been put on hold in December after various training materials Jakarta deemed offensive were found at an Australian army base.

Flash point

Australian authorities did not say what caused offense, but the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) said it was related to posters of West Papua, a region which has long sought independence from Indonesia.

Indonesian newspaper Kompas said the row erupted after a visiting special forces instructor found teaching materials he deemed disrespectful towards his country's armed forces, as well as materials he thought insulted Indonesia's founding philosophy of "Pancasila."

Indonesian military spokesman Maj. Gen. Wuryanto said an Indonesian instructor felt a "laminated paper" displayed at the facility was insulting.

The ABC also broadcast footage Thursday of Indonesia's military chief General Gatot Nurmantyo giving a lecture in November, voicing fears Canberra was trying to recruit soldiers sent to Australia for training.

Symbolbild US Truppen in Australien (Hitchcock/Getty Images)

US Marines walk along a road after completing a live fire excercise near Rockhampton, Australia

"Every time there is a training program - like recently - the best five or 10 students would be sent to Australia. That happened before I was chief so I let that happen," he said.

"Once I became chief commander of the national forces, it did not happen again. They will certainly be recruited. They will certainly be recruited."

Canberra regrets offense caused

Defense Minister Marise Payne rejected claims that it tried to "recruit" Indonesia's best soldiers, but expressed regret that the incident had caused Indonesia offense.

"We are working closely with our counterparts both at the military and at the political level to rectify any concerns, to address any concerns and to resume the relationship in its entirety as soon as possible," Payne said. 

Ongoing feud

The spat is the latest falling out between the key allies and neighbors, whose relationship has been charactrerized in recent years by disputes over Jakarta's execution of Australian drug smugglers and Canberra's policy of turning migrant boats back to Indonesia, as well as revelations that former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's mobile phone had been tapped by spies.

Current Indonesian President Joko Widodo downplayed the severity of the row, however, telling the press in Jakarta that ties with Australia were strong.

"Indonesia and Australia have agreed to respect each other, to appreciate each other and not interfere in each others' domestic affairs," he said. "We have already agreed on that and now I have ordered the minister of defense and the military chief to address the problem."

jbh/kms (AP, AFP)

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