Indonesia boosts borders, calls Australia ‘unhelpful’

Indonesia’s foreign minister says a heightening of his country’s border security is not meant to be an unfriendly act towards Australia, despite admitting the nations are going through a “difficult patch”.

Marty Natalegawa, in Davos for the World Economic Forum, admitted to Australian reporters on Thursday that there have been concerns recent tensions between the the two countries have the potential to get out of hand.

However, he insisted bilateral relations were still in a “very good state” overall.

Although he wouldn’t go into specifics, Mr Natalegawa effectively confirmed media reports out of Jakarta claiming a number of Indonesian Navy warships have been deployed and four Air Force defence radars have been programmed to closely monitor the southern border.

He said Indonesia had upped its border patrol in the wake of recent incursions by Australian navy vessels, but played the move down when asked if it was designed to be provocative towards Australia or put his country on a war footing.

“It’s not meant to be an unfriendly act to anyone,” Mr Natalegawa said.

“It’s just a country that is keen to ensure our sovereign border is properly protected.”

Tony Abbott is also in Davos and Mr Natalegawa says while he hasn’t had a chance to catch up with the Australian prime minister, he would be pleased to, describing him as a friend of Indonesia.

In recent days Mr Abbott has strongly reasserted Australia’s right to turn back asylum boats to Indonesia amid the growing tensions.

Mr Natalegawa, attending Davos in the absence of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, reiterated that Indonesia found the hard-line stance “quite unhelpful”.

“I have said in the past that this can be a slippery slope and we have seen with events over the past week or so precisely that being the case,” he said.

“That’s why we feel that it will be best take stock of where we are just now and ensure that things don’t get out of hand.

“But certainly in so far as the bilateral relations between our two countries, it remains in a very good state I believe, all-in-all.

“Of course we are going through a difficult patch at the moment.”

Australian Customs and Defence have started a review into the entry of Australian vessels into Indonesian waters.

Mr Natalegawa says his country wants to ensure it doesn’t happen again and has been assured by Australia that is the case.

Mr Natalegawa also said he thought Australia would want to investigate recent brutality claims levelled at the Australian navy by asylum seekers.

The ABC this week broadcast footage of asylum seekers receiving treatment for burns they claim they suffered when Navy personnel forced them to hold hot engine pipes as they were towed back to Indonesia’s Rote Island.

Australia has rejected the claims as baseless.

Mr Natalegawa says an investigation process is underway in Indonesia.

“I’m confident the Australian government would want to be privy to be part of such a process, to be informed and to ensure if there were any shortcomings in the treatment of the refugees then they’re going to address that,” he said.

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