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Published: Friday, 4/15/2005

Mending ties down under

HERE'S one good thing to come out of the tragedies that Indonesia has suffered lately: hope for improved relations between that nation and Australia, which has stepped forward to offer humanitarian aid.

Nothing is set in stone, but a better relationship is significant in the world's fight against terrorism.

Relations have been chilly between the two countries in recent years, and an attempt to warm them fizzled in 1999 when Australia played a significant role in the U.N.-led intervention in East Timor after it voted for independence from Indonesia.

A thaw of sorts began when police from both nations worked together three years ago after more than 200 people, many of them Australians, were killed in the Bali nightclub bombings, and again last September when a car bomb exploded outside Australia's embassy in Jakarta. Australia has promised $1 billion to help rebuild the Indonesian province of Aceh, devastated in December by the tsunami.

Then just recently, nine Australian military personnel were killed in Indonesia when their helicopter carrying medical supplies to earthquake victims crashed. When the nations' leaders met, they embraced, signifying the chipping away at differences as they mourned the rescue team on the Indonesian island of Nias, where nearly 1,300 Indonesians died in the recent earthquake. The tsunami left about 220,000 Acehnese dead or missing.

Although each country has much to gain, it is too soon to say just how far-reaching or long-lasting improved relations will be between them. Fighting terrorism is at the forefront of their concerns, and mended ties could also benefit economic, trade, as well as other security issues. As encouraging as all this is, many details still must be worked out and a mutual defense pact is a long way from reality.

What's certain is that it's good that Australia and Indonesia recognize the importance of mutual cooperation in the war on terrorism and in times of humanitarian crisis.

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