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Australia's Abbott says intelligence collecting on Indonesia won't stop

SYDNEY -- Australia will not halt collecting intelligence on Indonesia but would work towards becoming its trusted partner, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Friday in the wake of damaging espionage allegations.

Reports last month that Australian spies targeted the phones of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, his wife and inner circle in 2009 sparked one of the worst diplomatic crises between the two strategic allies in years.

The two nation's foreign ministers agreed on Thursday to establish a “hotline” and a code of conduct to restore trust, with Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop expressing her regret at the situation.

Asked on Friday whether Australia had agreed to stop collecting intelligence on Indonesia, Abbott replied: “No.”

“And they certainly haven't agreed to stop collecting intelligence on Australia,” he told Fairfax radio.

“But we are close friends, we are strategic partners and I certainly want Australia to be a trusted partner of Indonesia and I hope Indonesia can be a trusted partner of Australia.”

Jakarta had responded furiously to the espionage reports, based on documents leaked by U.S. intelligence fugitive Edward Snowden, suspending bilateral cooperations with Australia in key areas including people-smuggling.

During a visit to Jakarta on Thursday, Bishop said she and Indonesian counterpart Marty Natalegawa had agreed to establish more open lines of communication, “a hotline, if you like,” as a first step towards resuming cooperation and “avoiding any unintended consequences.”

She also said Canberra had agreed to a six-point plan laid out by Yudhoyono last week, aimed at establishing a code of conduct to restore trust.

Canberra will not undertake “any act or use our assets or resources, including our intelligence assets, in any way to harm Indonesia,” she added.

Abbott has previously stressed the importance of the relationship with Indonesia, particularly given the strong cooperation between the countries on stopping people-smuggling.

“We are certainly very happy to have a more extensive, more formalized intelligence and security relationship because we think that is in the best interest of both countries,” he said on Friday.

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