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Minister plays down ex-general's abuse

AAP logoAAP 4/08/2016 Lisa Martin

Australia's top national security ministers will hold talks next week with a former military general accused of human rights abuses in East Timor, who has recently been returned to the Indonesian cabinet.

Justice Minister Michael Keenan and Attorney General George Brandis will travel to Bali for a Wednesday meeting with Wiranto and ministers from 20 other countries.

In 2004, a UN-backed special tribunal called for Wiranto's arrest for alleged crimes against humanity following violence that surrounded East Timor's 1999 vote for independence.

Mr Keenan said Australia's relationship with Indonesia was vitally important for national security.

"The makeup of the Indonesian government is obviously a matter for the Indonesian government," Mr Keenan told reporters in Adelaide on Thursday.

"Working with Indonesia is absolutely in Australia's interest."

Wiranto, who only goes by one name, ran unsuccessfully to be Indonesian president in 2004 and vice president in 2009 and incidentally, was dubbed the singing general after releasing a music album of love ballads.

Australian National University Indonesia expert Greg Fealy said there will be a degree of "awkwardness" for the ministers over Wiranto's past and they will have to adjust their expectations.

He said the Australian government would have been very happy dealing with Luhut Panjaitan the former chief security minister who was an experienced international operator with excellent English.

Dr Fealy said Wiranto has not been in Indonesia's cabinet for 16 years and hadn't featured prominently in public debates on security during that time.

"He's going to have a lot to learn in a short period," he told AAP, adding that the key thing for a smooth transition was whether the previous minister's senior staff continue in the office.

"It would be surprising for (Wiranto) to speak with much authority on these matters because I don't think he'll know a great deal about them."

Dr Fealy said because of the importance of counter-terrorism cooperation, it's likely Wiranto may have to visit Australia at some point, but it would be a tightly controlled trip in order to avoid protesters.

Amnesty International has slammed President Joko Widodo's appointment of Wiranto saying it showed "contempt for human rights".

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