x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Indonesia reviews Australia cooperation as spy row escalates

Australian prime minister refuses to apologise over claims Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's phone was tapped.

JAKARTA // Indonesia warned yesterday it will review cooperation with Canberra over claims president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s phone was tapped, demanding that Australia do more to make amends after its leader refused to apologise.

In a series of angry tweets, Yudhoyono said ties with Canberra had been damaged and “deplored” what he described as a lack of remorse on the part of the Australian prime minister.

His outrage over reports that his phone and those of his wife and ministers were targeted by Australian spies came a day after Indonesia recalled its ambassador from Canberra in protest.

Indonesia is “reviewing the bilateral cooperation because of Australia’s hurtful action”, Mr 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 close 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,” Mr Yudhoyono 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, Australian prime minister Tony Abbott told the Australian parliament: “I sincerely regret any embarrassment recent media reports have caused Yudhoyono.”

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

However his words did not go far enough for Yudhoyono, with his spokesman Julian Pasha saying the president “regretted” the statement as it offered neither an apology nor a clarification of the reports.

“We hope for a positive development to save relations between the two countries,” he added.

The documents leaked to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and Guardian newspaper show that Australia’s electronic intelligence agency tracked Mr 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.

Agence France-Presse