Treatment of Indonesian governor in Sydney causes diplomatic stir

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Thursday, May 31, 2007

Map showing geographical location of Australia (orange) and Indonesia (green).
Image: David York.

Relations between Australia and Indonesia have been strained due to an incident in Sydney, New South Wales involving a visiting Indonesian governor.

Governor of Jakarta Sutiyoso claims New South Wales police entered his harbourside hotel room whilst he was taking a nap, using a master hotel key, failing to knock or announce their presence before entering.

The police were requesting that the governor give evidence at an inquest into the 1975 death of an Australian cameraman Brian Peters in the neighbouring country of East Timor. Peters was killed in crossfire, along with four fellow Australian-based newspeople, in Balibo, just prior to the Indonesian military's invasion of East Timor. The circumstances around their death have been the centre of allegations regarding a cover-up by Indonesia and Australia, particularly from some of the families of those killed.

Sutiyoso is a retired Lieutenant General who served in the Indonesian military for three decades, and was involved in Indonesia's occupation of East Timor.

The now-governor refused to accept the request for summons, saying "I have nothing to do with the case."

Indonesian reaction

The Indonesian Ambassador to Australia's office has lodged a formal protest with the New South Wales government in Sydney over the treatment of Sutiyoso, who was a guest of the New South Wales Government. The governor was in Australia's most populous city to try and revive a possible co-operation agreement between the two neighbouring countries.

Since the incident, Sutiyoso cut short his trip, which involved an official visit to Canberra, Australia's capital city. He has also been outspoken about his treatment, accusing those involved of acting in an exceedingly inappropriate way.

"I really feel slighted by such treatment", Sutiyoso said. "If there is no apology, I will deem it as arrogance on their part, and do we need to continue relations with Australia?"

The incident caused a demonstration outside of the Australian Embassy in Jakarta. Hundreds of protesters rallied outside the complex, demanding an explanation and apology from the Federal Government. They also threatened to find Australians living in the Indonesian capital city and force them to leave the country if an apology wasn't given.

The Foreign Ministry of Indonesia has expressed their opinion that any findings from the Brian Peters inquest will be ignored by Indonesia, and will only serve to make the presently-weak relations between Australia and Indonesia more fragile.

Australian reaction

Foreign Minister of Australia, Alexander Downer.

The Federal Government of Australia, through Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer, has expressed that they understand Indonesia's feelings on the matter. He also stated that Australians need to be more sensitive to Indonesia's notion of humiliation in the future, saying that Indonesian people would see this as "an enormous humiliation for a major Indonesian figure."

The Federal Government also expressed their view that the issue was one that needed to be handled via the New South Wales Government, as the incident involved one of the state police, and Sutiyoso was an official guest of the NSW government at the time of the event.

New South Wales Premier Morris Iemma has scheduled a meeting with Indonesian officials for early next week to discuss the issue, with the intent of easing the diplomatic tension involving Sutiyoso. Iemma expressed, however, that the police were not acting under the direction of the NSW Government, and added that "[Australia] have a system that is different to the Indonesians, where the political arm [of government] is independent from the judiciary and the police."

According to Sutiyoso, Australia's Ambassador to Indonesia, Bill Farmer, has spoken to the governor about his treatment by police, and has personally apologised.

This story has new developments.

Updated information can be found here.


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