Friday, 22 November 2013

Indonesia recalls its ambassador to Australia as tensions rise over spying revelations

INDONESIA recalled its ambassador to Australia over claims that Australian spy agencies tried to listen to the phone calls of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said.

Natalegawa said the envoy was being called back to Jakarta for "consultations" after secret documents leaked by US intelligence fugitive Edward Snowden named the president as well as his wife and senior ministers as targets of the surveillance.

Earlier tonight, Indonesia's Coordinating Minister for Legal, Political and Security Affairs Djoko Suyanto said he would demand Australia make a public explanation about the claims and make a commitment that it would not monitor the phones again.

Top secret documents from Australia's Defence Signals Directorate, leaked by fugitive US intelligence whistleblower Edward Snowden and published by the ABC and The Guardian, list 10 officials and their phone details - beginning with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and wife Ani.

The document, dated November 2009, has an Australian Department of Defence letterhead. The headline is "IA Leadership Targets + Handsets".

Indonesia's Foreign Affairs Ministry would "summon Indonesian ambassador in Canberra for consultation", Air Marshal Suyanto said in a text sent to this evening.

He also said Indonesia would review the exchange of information with Australia and "all other cooperation".

Australia's Foreign Minister Julie Bishop will be told the issue will have a negative impact on the countries' bilateral relationship.

Earlier today Prime Minister Tony Abbott declined to comment on reports Australian spies tried to listen to the phone calls of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, his wife and senior ministers.

"I am aware of media reports," Mr Abbott told parliament.

"All governments gather information.

"The Australian government never comments on specific intelligence matters.

"This has been the long tradition of governments of both political persuasions and I don't intend to change that today."

Mr Abbott was responding in question time to a query from Australian Greens MP Adam Bandt.

Mr Bandt had asked if the reports were true, if Australia was still doing it and if the prime minister supported it.

PM Tony Abbott and his wife Margie are welcomed by President Susilo Bambang Yudhyono and Ibu Ani Yudhoyono as they arrive for the APEC Gala Dinner in Bali in October. Picture: Ray Strange Source: News Limited

The revelations come amid continuing tensions between Australia and Indonesia over spying after an earlier Snowden leak suggested Australia used its Jakarta embassy to spy.

Mr Abbott also told parliament the Australia government used all the resources at its disposal, including information, "to help our friends and our allies, not to harm them".

"My first duty is to protect Australia and too advance our national interest," he said.

"I will never ever depart from that.

"Consistent with that duty I will never say or do anything that might damage the strong relationship and the close cooperation that we have with Indonesia."

The prime minister said the relationship with Indonesia was most important and he was determined to foster it.

"A relationship that I am determined will grow stronger in the months and years ahead," he added.

Earlier, former coalition government foreign minister Alexander Downer said the revelations would be damaging to Australia.

"It's a shocking situation in which Australia will pay a big price," Sky News cited Mr Downer as saying.

Australian Greens senator Scott Ludlam said there needed for full disclosure on what Australian spy agencies were up to.

"It's kind of insulting to tell someone like the president of Indonesia that he's a security threat," he told Sky News.

Richard Woolcott, a former Australian ambassador to Indonesia, agreed the latest revelations about spying might ratchet up the reaction from Indonesia.

He played down speculation of a possible recall of the Indonesian ambassador.

"When you have problems, the best thing to do is keep your ambassador there," he said.

Former intelligence analyst and now Independent MP Andrew Wilkie said it was important that "we all know how our intelligence services operate".

"Some capabilities must be kept secret ... but it is in the public interest that a light be shone on the way these agencies do business and how they spend billions of dollars of our money," he told reporters in Canberra.

The initial tension between Australia and Indonesia arose a few weeks ago after leaked documents showed Australia had engaged in a US-led intelligence-gathering operation from its embassy in Jakarta.

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