Indonesia relations with Australia sour over phone tapping

Co-operation between the two countries at lowerst point in 14 years

Australia’s prime minister Tony Abbott. Photograph: Reuters

Australia’s prime minister Tony Abbott. Photograph: Reuters


Indonesia froze a broad range of co-operation with Australia today after reports that its neighbour had tried to eavesdrop on mobile phone conversations of top Indonesian officials, taking relations to their lowest point in 14 years.

The decision, announced by president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in a television address, follows increasingly tense relations between the neighbours since Tony Abbott became Australia’s prime minister in September.

Australian officials did not reply to requests for comment.

“It’s clear that this is a logical step Indonesia must take,” said Mr Yudhoyono.

He said he was again demanding an official explanation from Australia over media reports quoting documents leaked by former US National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, that its spy agencies had tried to tap his mobile phone and those of his wife and senior officials.

Some analysts said the fact that the snooping is said to have involved the president’s wife, Ani Bambang Yudhoyono, may have fuelled Indonesian anger in the latest upset in often prickly relations.

The very public display of anger also comes ahead of Indonesia’s general and presidential elections next year with the president’s ruling party slipping badly in recent opinion polls.

Among the measures, Indonesia will suspend military co-operation and intelligence exchanges, including over the politically charged issue of asylum seekers which has long been a thorn in relations.

An Indonesian military spokesman later said these would take effect from the beginning of next year.

Mr Abbott has been pressing Jakarta over the issue of boat people who frequently head to Australia via Indonesia.

Mr Yudhoyono said he wanted to return to good relations with Australia once the phone-tapping problem was resolved.