Australia: Smith defends relations with Kopassus

Smith defends relations with Kopassus

The Sydney Morning Herald, 29 September 2010

Defence Minister Stephen Smith has defended Australia's involvement in a joint training exercise with Indonesia's controversial special forces Kopassus.

Australia needed to maintain security cooperation with Indonesia, and Kopassus had come a long way from an era of human rights abuses, he said.

The elite Special Air Service Regiment recently conducted a training exercise with a unit of Kopassus responsible for counter-terrorism.

Australia's involvement prompted criticism from Indonesia's National Human Rights Commission which said Kopassus needed human rights not military training.

Mr Smith said Australia was well aware that in the past there had been human rights breaches by people associated with Kopassus.

The practice of Australian governments for a long period of time had been to minimise contact with anyone in Kopassus subject to human rights breach allegations or accusations.

"But Indonesia and Kopassus have come a long way," Mr Smith told Sky News on Wednesday.

"We are now dealing with a modern Indonesia."

Australia officially resumed training with Indonesian special forces in 2005 and since then has participated in a a series of activities.

That followed an extended break following the breakdown of relations over Australia's role leading the mission to East Timor.

Defence links between Australian and Indonesia had grown steadily through the 1980s and 1990s, mainly between Kopassus and the SASR.

Cooperation with Kopassus has always been controversial because of the organisation's long and well-documented history of killings and abuses in East Timor, Aceh and West Papua.