Tuesday Mar 28
Top Indonesian officials won't attend a memorial service for nine Australians killed in last
year's relief helicopter crash on earthquake-hit Nias Island as anger mounts over the visas
granted to Papuan separatists.
A senior Indonesian military spokesman also said plans
for Sunday's anniversary ceremony had not been approved and it might not take place at all.
Separately, demonstrators have daubed obscenities on the walls of the Australian embassy
in Jakarta in protest.
They wrote "Australia F***" and "Leave Indonesia now" in red paint on the grey walls of the
embassy compound on Monday night.
An embassy spokeswoman said about a dozen paramilitary police and security staff, some wearing
kevlar combat vests and helmets, did nothing to stop the vandals because they did not pose "a
real threat to the embassy".
Around 30 family members from Australia are expected to join
defence personnel including Maritime Commander Rear-Admiral Davyd Thomas and Ambassador Bill
Farmer for the service in Tuindrao village, near the west coast of Nias.
Just 12 months
ago the tragedy brought the two countries and their governments close together in grief over
the ultimate sacrifice paid by young Australians trying to help disaster-hit Indonesians.
But it is a different story in the wake of visas given to 42 Papuan asylum seekers.
Diplomatic relations are strained with Indonesia's ambassador called home from Canberra
amid calls by nationalists for tougher action against Australia.
Military and government
officials in Jakarta seemed, at best, uninterested in Sunday's service.
"We don't know if
we are sending anyone yet," the Indonesian defence department's chief of international relations,
Colonel Wahyu Suhendar, told AAP.
The deputy spokesman for the military, Colonel Ahmad
Yani Basuki, said the whole event was still under a cloud, although he refused to say why and
whether the uncertainty was linked to the Papua row.
"At the moment the event has not
been cleared," he said.
"There is no certainty on whether it's going to be held or not,
and that's all I'll say."
Provincial military chiefs in the north Sumatra capital Medan
said they had not been instructed to send anyone and were unaware the memorial was even
taking place, despite the looming arrival of an Australian warship in Indonesian waters.
Following a massive earthquake
on the island on March 28 last year, the ageing navy Sea King, codenamed Shark 02, was
flying a rescue mission with 11 medical personnel and air crew from HMAS Kanimbla when
it cartwheeled into the ground and burst into flames.
A crash inquiry has heard a
bolt fell out of the helicopter's flight control system.
Only two passengers survived,
communications specialist Shane Warburton and paramedic Scott Nicholls, who were dragged
from the burning wreck by local villagers.
Still grieving family members of the
victims will travel to the dusty football field where the crash occurred on board an
air force C-130 Hercules and HMAS Tobruk, before joining local Indonesian officials in
Tuindrao to dedicate a new memorial.
Letters requesting senior Indonesian brass
to attend were sent several months ago by the Australian embassy in Jakarta to the chiefs
of the navy, air force and army, as well as the foreign ministry.
The letters were
sent on to the office of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who last year joined Prime Minister
John Howard on the tarmac at Sydney Airport as the bodies of the nine Australians were flown home.
They were posthumously given Indonesian medals and an honour guard.
An Australian embassy spokeswoman said Canberra had not expected "the panglima", or head
of the military, to attend the service.
Fiery nationalist MP and foreign affairs
commission member Djoko Susilo, who has in recent days lashed out at Canberra over the
Papuans, said anger in Jakarta should not extend to the Nias service.
"This is a
separate case, a humanitarian case," he told AAP.
"I don't see any problem with
But he said Mr Howard should apologise to Indonesia over the visa
issue and show more sensitivity to Jakarta.