Indonesia reviews Australia cooperation over spy claims

(UPDATED) The revelations have heaped further pressure on relations between Jakarta and Canberra, which were already strained over earlier spying allegations and the boatpeople issue

NO APOLOGY. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott pictured in Kuta, Bali, Indonesia, in this file photo dated 09 October 2013. EPA/Made Nagi

JAKARTA, Indonesia (UPDATED) – President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said Tuesday, November 19, that Indonesia is reviewing cooperation with Australia over “hurtful” claims his phone was spied on, a day after Jakarta angrily recalled its ambassador from Canberra.

Yudhoyono also hit out at Prime Minister Tony Abbott for what he said was a lack of remorse over the reports that Australian spy agencies tried to listen to his phone calls, as well as those of his wife and ministers.

Abbott said later that he regretted any embarrassment caused by the reported spying but stopped short of an apology.

The revelations have heaped further pressure on relations between Jakarta and Canberra, which were already strained over earlier spying allegations and the issue of boatpeople heading to Australia via Indonesia.

Indonesia is “reviewing the bilateral cooperation because of Australia’s hurtful action,” Yudhoyono said in a tweet, referring to the accounts of spying in documents leaked by US intelligence fugitive Edward Snowden to Australian media.

Indonesia and Australia are vital strategic and trading partners and have traditionally worked together in many areas, including on anti-terrorism initiatives and on the sensitive issue of asylum seekers.

“I also deplore the Australian PM’s statement that wiretapping in Indonesia is considered a small thing, without any feeling of remorse,” he said.

“The acts by the US and Australia are very damaging to their strategic partnerships with Indonesia, a fellow democratic country,” he added, referring to allegations the US has also been spying from its embassy in Jakarta.

Following the president’s angry tweets, Abbott told the Australian parliament that Yudhoyono was “one of the very best friends that we have anywhere in the world.

“That’s why, I sincerely regret any embarrassment recent media reports have caused him.”

But he added: “Australia should not be expected to apologize for the steps we take to protect our country now or in the past, any more than other governments should be expected to apologize for the similar steps that they have taken.”

However, Indonesia said Monday it was “flabbergasted” by the allegations that the president and nine of his inner circle had their phones targeted, as it recalled its ambassador.

The documents, leaked to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and Guardian newspaper, show that Australia’s electronic intelligence agency tracked Yudhoyono’s activity on his mobile phone for 15 days in August 2009, when Labor’s Kevin Rudd was prime minister.

At least one phone call was reportedly intercepted.

Weeks before, twin blasts at luxury hotels in the Indonesian capital – the JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton – had killed seven people, including three Australians, as well as two suicide bombers.

The list of 10 tracking targets also included Yudhoyono’s wife Ani, Vice President Boediono – who was in Australia last week – former vice president Jusuf Kalla, the foreign affairs spokesman, the security minister and the information minister, the reports said.

Indonesian ambassador Nadjib Riphat Kesoema headed to the airport in Canberra on Tuesday and told reporters he does not know how long he will be kept out of the country.

“I think a good explanation will be the best way to ease the problem,” he said.

The two countries work together in numerous areas including trying to stop asylum seekers boarding boats in Indonesia and heading to Australia. Australia also helped train Indonesia’s elite anti-terror squad in the wake of the 2002 Bali bombings which targeted Australian tourists.

Indonesia is also the biggest recipient of Australian aid money and there are numerous cultural and educational exchanges between the neighbors. Australian firms are important investors in Indonesia, particularly in the mining sector.

However, the relationship has come under strain since Abbott took power in September due to his hardline policy of turning asylum seeker boats back to Indonesia.

Indonesia earlier this month summoned the Australian ambassador over reports the embassy was being used for surveillance as part of a US-led spying network.

Former US National Security Agency contractor Snowden was given asylum in Russia in August, to the fury of the United States where he is wanted on espionage charges following disclosures that have provoked international uproar. – Rappler.com

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