December 7, 1999
INDONESIA: ACEH POSES NEW 'TEST' FOR WAHID
Editors in nearly all geographic regions determined that Indonesian President Abdurrachman Wahid was facing the first major "test" of his presidency in responding to the unrest in the north Sumatran province of Aceh, where pro-independence activists have demanded an "East Timor-style" referendum. Opinionmakers in East Asia and elsewhere feared that any "false steps" on Mr. Wahid's part could result in "worse violence than [that which took place] in East Timor" and could lead to the "disintegration" of the Indonesian archipelago. Outside Indonesia, a number of analysts proposed a power-sharing system of "federalism" as a way of assuaging the Acehnese' aspirations for independence. Dailies in Jakarta, however, were divided on the issue, with the leading, independent, English-language Jakarta Post favoring a referendum--"dangerous" though it might be for "the cause of territorial integrity"--and others, such as leading, independent Kompas, fearing a "domino effect" if Aceh were to gain "independence." Following are additional themes in the commentary:
VIEWS FROM INDONESIA: The Indonesian media underscored the seriousness of the situation in Aceh, with many papers voicing impatience with Mr. Wahid for allegedly not "concentrating" on a problem that "could cause the disintegration of the state and its people." "President Wahid seems to be avoiding...Aceh," charged independent Media Indonesia, adding: "We have heard state officials and experts predict that Aceh is the first domino in the tragedy of Indonesian balkanization. However, [thus far], we have only witnessed words about agreements." That paper contended that a "presidential decree" was needed to "retain Aceh as an integral part" of Indonesia, joining others which held that a referendum on Aceh was "not in accord" with the Indonesian Constitution. On the question of martial law for the restive province, an idea which Mr. Wahid rejected in late November, most editorialists found common cause with Surabaya's independent Jawa Pos, which maintained that such a move would only "strengthen the resolve" of the pro-independence movement and "pave the way" for "foreign pressure" on Indonesia. A number of dailies castigated the Indonesian military (TNI) for its purported "involvement in violence" in Aceh and East Timor.
GETTING U.S.-INDONESIA TIES BACK ON TRACK: A few papers in Jakarta judged that Mr. Wahid's meeting in Washington with President Clinton in mid-November had served to put U.S.-Indonesia ties "back on track." The Jakarta Post envisioned Indonesia as pursuing a "more active and independent foreign policy" than in the past. A Malaysian pundit, however, imputed sinister motives to what it termed President Clinton's "offer to ease the problems in Aceh," saying that "the real reason America wants to be involved is to silence the Indonesian voice before the country can gain a prominent place in Southeast Asia." A Tokyo daily declared that Mr. Wahid's visit to the U.S. and to Japan before going to Beijing demonstrated that Jakarta was "attaching greater importance" to relations with those two countries than with China.
EDITOR: Kathleen J. Brahney
EDITOR'S NOTE: This survey is based on 55 reports from 18 countries, November 6 - December 7. Editorial excerpts are grouped by region; editorials from each country are listed from the most recent date.
EAST ASIA AND PACIFIC
INDONESIA: "Now Is The Time To Handle Aceh, Maluku"
Leading, independent Kompas insisted (12/7): "Like it or not, it is President Wahid and Vice President Megawati who must take the initiative.... Gus Dur's Southeast Asia, Middle East, the U.S. and China trips brought [external] understanding, goodwill and even support for Indonesian democratization and territorial unity. Now is the time to concentrate all thoughts, approaches and efforts to settling the problems, which could cause disintegration of the state and its people."
"Kopassus For Aceh"
According to the government-oriented, English-language Indonesian Observer (12/7): "President Wahid must show more seriousness in handling the affairs of state. He must take account of the fact that those people who feel that they have been downtrodden for such a long time, are now clamoring for justice and they demand the enforcement of law."
"Aceh Is A Problem For People And State Of Indonesia"
Leading independent Kompas asked (12/4): "If Aceh were to gain independence from the Republic of Indonesia, to what extent would it provoke a domino effect in other regions like Irian Jaya, Maluku and Riau? If the domino effect were to occur, would the people and the state of Indonesia still exist? Not only that. Drawing on the experience of the Balkan states and Soviet Union, [one can see] how disintegration has diminished those nations."
"Dialogue Vs. Force"
The leading, independent, English-language Jakarta Post remarked (12/3): "It is heartening that the dominant view among our decision-makers is still that dialogue, and not force, is the best, or indeed the only way to solve the problem of secessionism in this country. Hopefully, the same kind of wisdom that persuaded the secessionist leaders in Aceh and Irian Jaya to follow a course that could avoid violence and bloodshed is present among our state leaders, civilian and military alike."
"Special Commission In Confusion"
In the editorial view of independent Media Indonesia (12/1): "The generals accused of causing the humanitarian tragedy in Aceh at last came before parliament. Coolly, they told the Aceh Special Commission members about the significance of killings, shootings and military operations. Through military eyes, the old generals consider the tragedy in Aceh a logical consequence of a security and territorial protection operation. From a policy perspective, they contend, there is no problem with what happened in Aceh.... The commission considers itself a success, not because of answers or information, but simply because of the generals' attendance itself. Just that.... Errors, much apparent during the generals' summons, were not so much embarrassing as saddening. There was no information whatsoever about the Acehnese tragedy. The commission members were mistaken in assuming their questions were answers in themselves."
The leading, independent Jakarta Post argued (11/30): "The president's 'at all costs' remark [in Manila] should preclude the use of military force because the problem originated from the disastrous military policy in dealing with separatist sentiments.... More militarism will only exacerbate the problem. We should have learned our lesson well from the way the past administrations botched East Timor. A referendum, as dangerous as it is to the cause of territorial integrity, must still precede any military solution. Although President Wahid has won assurances from foreign leaders that Aceh will be treated as a domestic issue of Indonesia, the world will not be able to stand silent to renewed atrocities which will likely take place if he sanctions another military operation in the province. The president would do well to clarify his remarks in Manila by saying that he will defend Indonesia's territorial integrity, but never at the cost of human lives and democracy. This way, he would not only pacify the Acehnese, but also keep the military on a leash."
"ASEAN Backs An Integrated Republic Of Indonesia"
Independent afternoon Suara Pembaruan remarked (11/29): "[In addition to] ASEAN support on Aceh, Indonesia received positive responses from the United States and Middle Eastern countries. Reports say that the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) is going to follow suit.... Why do so many countries want Aceh to remain an Indonesian territory when it was precisely the West that pressured Indonesia to free East Timor?.... First, Aceh and East Timor have distinct histories, making East Timor's referendum request different from that of Aceh. Second, countries must consider Aceh's strategic access to the Malacca Strait, one of the busiest international sea lanes. As a superpower, it is certainly in the United States' interest to ensure that not a single flareup occurs along that route.... Third, if Aceh really wants freedom, it would become a precedent for separatist movements, which remain strong in Southeast Asia.... The Russian experience in such matters offers a lesson about how high the price of settling a separatist conflict can be."
"Nation At A Crossroads"
The leading, independent Jakarta Post opined (11/29): "As the situation currently stands, a possible way out that could be acceptable to all parties involved would be to work toward granting real and wide-ranging autonomy to the various regions of Indonesia. This strategy takes into account the reality that federalism is still a dirty word to many Indonesians, in particular the military. That problem, however, must be put on hold. The absolute prerequisite for making such a settlement even possible to resolve with absolute fairness, is to, for once and for all, pursue outstanding cases of human rights abuses and injustices wherever they exist in this country. Unless this action is carried out, it will be disheartening to think about the future of this nation, which our predecessors built at the cost of so much blood and tears."
"Don't Be Ambivalent In Critical Situation"
Nationalistic tabloid Rakyat Merdeka argued (11/28): "Had UN official Richard Holbrooke not asked the Indonesian government 'in a forceful way' to assist in returning hungry and half-dead East Timorese refugees to their homes, the public would still not know what is happening in this country. Now what about Aceh? The National Commission on Human Rights has found evidence of extra-judicial killings, ruthless tortures, forced disappearances, cruel kidnappings and arrests, rapes and sexual assaults, and the creation of a climate of fear. All this has been created in the same way as East Timor, with only a 'slight' difference: East Timor gained UN attention and assistance, while Aceh has not. It is quite possible that the East Timor issue will bring several senior military and civilian Indonesian officials before an international tribunal. That is unlikely with Aceh.... We now await firm action.
"Society and students will be very disappointed if the Gus Dur-Megawati administration remains indecisive and timid in resolving crucial problems at this critical juncture."
"Decree On Aceh"
Independent Media Indonesia asserted (11/27): "Gus Dur must restore the authority and control that has been lost in Aceh. This nation, through its president, must demonstrate to the Acehnese its seriousness, commitment, and priority to retain Aceh as an integral part of Indonesia. The means to do so are in the president's hands. It is called a decree."
"What If Aceh Demands Independence?"
The government-oriented, English-language Indonesian Observer averred (11/27): "Gus Dur must realize that his primary task is to preserve law and order, and without martial law the whole structure of public order in Aceh is set to collapse, forcing thousands of people to live according to the law of the jungle.... It is singularly deceptive if, despite all signs to the contrary, Gus Dur maintains the hope that the Acehnese will not abandon Mother Indonesia."
"Indications Of Indonesian Military Involvement In East Timor Destruction"
Independent Berita Buana maintained (11/23): "The Indonesian military (TNI) must start considering why there are always military personnel (and not just a few) involved in violence. They must not continue with their standard [response that] 'it is impossible that commanders ordered violent actions.' If it occurred only once or twice, that might be deemed plausible. But people have noted numerous indications that TNI is involved in violence. Perhaps the TNI's leadership should change its strategy, and cease being defensive--as they have been for 32 years--when responding to violence in which signs indicate TNI involvement."
"Martial Law In Aceh--A Naive Idea"
Independent Jawa Pos of Surabaya stressed (11/23): "Hopefully, while Acehnese emotions and preconceptions toward Jakarta are at a peak, the government will not address safety concerns by declaring a civil or military emergency--or an emergency by any name.... Military and police leaders must seriously ponder the lesson of East Timor. Martial law was once imposed there. It not only strengthened the resolve of [Timorese resistance] forces, but also paved the way for foreign pressure on us as a country that tolerates human rights violations. If we receive this criticism, separatist movements will become stronger and, in many cases, may establish external networks to gain international support and sympathy for their efforts to separate from the republic."
"When A Question Becomes The Answer"
In the view of independent Media Indonesia (11/22): "President Wahid seems to be avoiding his much awaited arrival in Aceh.... Indeed, we are becoming impatient with the ignorance of a sense of crisis. We have heard state officials and experts predict that Aceh is the first domino in the tragedy of Indonesian balkanization. However, [thus far], we have only witnessed words about agreements."
"Justice Must Prevail"
An editorial in the leading, independent Jakarta Post judged (11/22): "With an injured sense of justice playing such an important part in fueling flames of unrest in several regions, most particularly Aceh, it is of the utmost importance that justice is not only done, but is seen to be done.
"For this reason, our military can make a most valuable contribution to holding this nation together, simply by recognizing the need for a fair public trial, in a civilian court, of any of its members who are accused of or suspected of such violations. This is the only way the public's confidence in, and respect for, the government and the military can be restored."
"Mr. President, Aceh Is A Serious Problem"
Independent Berita Buana emphasized (11/20): "Gus Dur obviously knows nothing about Aceh because he is not one of the Acehnese who experienced the bitter and horrible abuse of human rights due to military arrogance. So, if we want our country to remain unified, do something!"
"Indonesia Faces Dissolution Threat"
The leading, independent Jakarta Post asked (11/19): "Will President Wahid come to be seen, like Gorbachev, as a man who climbed to the top of a greasy political pole too late, who tried to reform things but was fatally handicapped by the long years in which there had been absolutely no reform? Not necessarily. While the current situation in Indonesia is very definitely precarious, it remains relevant to expect the unexpected.... Perhaps, Indonesia's shift towards democracy has not come too late, but just in the nick of time...to bring about overdue change. Jakarta must quickly acquire a heightened sense of national urgency before it is too late."
"Martial Law Not A Solution For Aceh"
Independent Suara Pembaruan offered this reaction (11/19): "The Indonesian military (TNI) should not pretend to be capable of handling the Aceh issue. That would mean they have never figured out that the conditions in Aceh today are the result of TNI's past treatment of the local people. In fact, one of the ways to dissipate Acehnese anger is to carry out a fair and transparent legal process for human rights violators from 1989 until now."
"Gus Dur And The Presidential Oath"
Independent Suara Bangsa insisted (11/18): "Gus Dur's attitude and statement supporting an Aceh referendum within seven months are not in accord with his presidential oath.... In neither the Constitution nor its amendments...is the term referendum included, let alone its implementation."
"Resources From Washington"
Independent Media Indonesia commented (11/16): "Gus Dur, you have taken a good initial step with foreign politics. But don't forget, you have to pay serious attention to the domestic situation.... You have won compliments from Washington and Tokyo. Now try to win compliments from Aceh, Ambon, Irian Jaya and Riau."
"Getting U.S.-Indonesia Ties Back On Track"
Muslim intellectual Republika observed (11/15): "Now that Indonesia has entered the era of reform, there is no more reason for the United States to be unfriendly with the Indonesian government.... Gus Dur's visit to the United States was a good step. Relations between these two friendly countries must be protected constantly, without impediments as in the past. However...both countries need to respect each other in a balanced bilateral relationship."
"New Indonesia-U.S. Ties"
In the view of the leading, independent, English-language Jakarta Post (11/13): "Wahid's visit to the United States has not only marked the beginning of a new period in Jakarta's relations with Washington, but also turned a new page in its foreign policy. With a lot of the excess baggage removed, Indonesia can pursue a more active and independent foreign policy, as required by the Constitution, with much more confidence than it has in the past."
"Time To Implement Concept Of Federation"
Independent afternoon Berita Buana indicated (11/10): "It seems that turning the state into a federation would cool off the 'horrible dreams' longed for by Aceh or other regions as well. Only with the idea of federation can the threat of disintegration be coped with.... Granting Aceh a referendum would only repeat the mistake of the central government at East Timor issue."
AUSTRALIA: "Timor Troops Mask Our Dire Asian Role"
Sydney's national, conservative Australian featured this analysis (12/3) by foreign editor Greg Sheridan: "Australia at the moment has a prime minister who is manifestly uncomfortable with Asia.... Apart from the Timor deployment, this has been a year of bungles, mismanagement, retreat, and strategic and political confusion for Australia in the region, and a pulling away from commitment to Asia.... We've had the prime minister's bizarre Howard doctrine, involving us as deputy sheriff to the United States, which ran for five days before it was disowned. The subtext of the Howard doctrine to an Asian audience is clear--we white guys have superior values to you, and we've got big, strong friends to back us up.... This has been a bad year for Australia in Asia."
"Indonesia's Chechnya--East Timor May Pale Next To Aceh"
The liberal Melbourne Age featured this op-ed piece (12/1) by the editor of Inside Indonesia magazine, Gerry van Klinken: "Wahid is not short of advice. Numerous opinion columns and parliamentary committees tell him the Acehnese want justice for past human rights abuses. But he is stuck in the same cleft stick as the rest of the Jakarta establishment. They don't like bloodshed, but they also won't yield to the regions. Even as disaster stares them in the face, they have no stomach for overhauling a centralized state that they feel has served them well. If Wahid is not able to restrain the men of violence in Jakarta, then he cannot expect those Acehnese who want a peaceful resolution to retain their goodwill. If martial law is declared, the ensuring bloodbath will rob him of his only political asset--his popularity--and could marginalize his presidency even before it finds its feet."
"Show Us Who's In Charge, Mr. Wahid"
The liberal Melbourne Age featured this (11/26) by its Indonesian correspondent, Lindsay Murdoch: "Abdurrahman Wahid has failed the first big test of his presidency. After raising the aspirations of the people of Aceh on a referendum, he has bluntly dismissed their demands for an East Timor-style vote on independence. For weeks the Indonesian president promised a referendum, which four million Acehnese took to mean a vote on self-rule. His refusal to spell out exactly what he meant led most Acehnese to falsely believe the days of brutal military repression were over.... Now, during a visit to the Middle East, the ailing Muslim cleric has described the leaders of the province's separatist movement as hooligans and a minority. This is a serious misjudgment. Even Indonesia's military concedes most Acehnese support the separatist movement and that a vote on self-determination would overwhelmingly favor breaking away from Indonesia."
"Aceh Promise Will Test Wahid's Hold"
Sydney's national conservative Australian asserted (11/18): "In a visit to Washington at the weekend, Mr. Wahid talked of a referendum [for Aceh].... He has been keen to espouse conciliation but he, of all people, knows that Aceh is far more central to Indonesia's future than East Timor. A false step might not only fail to solve the Aceh issue: It could spark worse violence than in East Timor and put his presidency under threat."
JAPAN: "Indonesia Pursues Better Ties With U.S., Japan"
Conservative Sankei's Singapore correspondent Yuasa observed (11/12): "After a delay in his post-inaugural visit to foreign countries because of the tense Aceh situation, President Wahid left for the United States on Thursday for talks with President Clinton. On his way home, Wahid is scheduled to visit Japan for talks with Prime Minister Obuchi. It appears that Wahid, despite his earlier statement suggesting that he would give priority to a visit to China, has decided to visit the two countries first to demonstrate his country is attaching greater importance to diplomatic relations with the United States and Japan."
MALAYSIA: "Learn From Indonesia's Mistake"
According to government-influenced Berita Harian (11/18): "Even though many citizens wanted East Timor to be part of Indonesia, propaganda and 'invisible hands' have manipulated it so that only the residents of the territory voted for independence.... Will this mistake be repeated in Aceh? The United States has already offered to ease the problems in Aceh, a territory that is rich in oil and gas. The offer comes from President Bill Clinton himself.... It shows that the real reason America wants to be involved is to silence the Indonesian voice before the country can gain a prominent place in Southeast Asia. Abdurrahman's hands are tied, and Indonesia looks like it will have to follow America's instructions because of its immense debt to the IMF.
"The Achehnese are as if under a spell.... They have been responsible for violence and public unrest in the territory. Perhaps it is not far-fetched to say that they have been influenced by 'invisible hands' from outside the country. The action groups that have been set up, together with the foreign media, have been on the front line to ensure that their message is spread, regardless of whether it is done in a good way or through spilling blood.... It is hard to believe that Indonesian citizens, with their strong sense of nationalism, would want to throw away their glorious history. The proud Indonesians have been cowed by the new form of colonization, economic domination. If this can happen to Indonesia, with its strong principles of Pancasila, just think of what could happen in Malaysia. Thankfully through the unity of the country and the wisdom of the leaders, the 'candy' offered by the IMF was rejected. Malaysia still protects the sovereignty of its people, religion and country."
PHILIPPINES: "Wahid Should Solve His Own Problems First"
Retired general and former ambassador to Indonesia, Ramon Farolan, held in the third leading Philippine Star (11/26): "Next week, President Wahid, who is facing serious problems of separatism in Aceh, is scheduled to meet with Hashim Salamat, leader of a group that openly declares as its objective, secession from the Philippine Republic. Wahid is just about to hand to Salamat on a silver platter the one thing no other country has given the MILF--international recognition.... How ridiculous this situation is! President Wahid, who has not even visited Aceh, where he faces a growing move for independence, is interested in meeting with Salamat. Maybe with the best of intentions. But someone should tell him that perhaps he should first attend to problems in his own backyard before taking on ours."
"And Now, Aceh"
University of the Philippines political science professor Alex Magno opined in the independent Manila Standard (11/16): "If Aceh, like East Timor, is allowed to secede from Indonesia, other smaller ethnic groups might choose the same path of independence. The sprawling Indonesian nations could go the shrunken way of Yugoslavia.... The fact that Wahid announced his government's intention to hold a referendum in Aceh should be taken by the ASEAN as a signal to begin moving to help Indonesia manage the process and prevent the situation from becoming as explosive as it did in East Timor. But many days after Wahid made his announcement in Manila, we have yet to see acknowledgment of the signal from ASEAN."
SINGAPORE: "Indonesia United"
In reaction to the ASEAN statement showing support for Indonesia's territorial integrity, the pro-government Straits Times contended (11/30): "An independent Aceh that encourages separatism in other parts of the far-flung archipelago would impinge on Indonesia's security, which would affect Southeast Asia's security in turn. No one wants a Yugoslavia here. The public statement of support is intended for several audiences. The primary one is, of course, the Acehnese rebels themselves.... The second audience is the West, primarily the United States and Australia.... In both countries, however, human rights and other lobbies, appalled by the atrocities that have been committed in Aceh, may pressure their governments to intervene politically. The ASEAN statement cannot be clearer about where the grouping stands. However--and this is where the third audience comes in--ASEAN's position does not imply that it would welcome a brutal military solution to the Acehnese problem.... The hope is that events will lead towards political negotiation, no matter how tortuous that road is, and not regress to a situation in which the military, trying to combat the insurgency, uses measures that worsen the situation."
"ASEAN's Clear Stand On Aceh"
Readers of the pro-government Business Times saw this editorial (11/30): "Jakarta must...draw up a new economic blueprint on how the country's vast natural resources are to be shared in an equitable manner, while at the same time ensuring that the interests of international investors are not trampled upon by provincial governments. Only then can Jakarta quell the rising tide of separatism in the country--of which Aceh is just the most vocal--and, more importantly, remain relevant in seeking a solution acceptable to both sides."
"Aceh And Federalism"
An editorial in the pro-government Business Times stressed (11/12): "Federalism is an option [for Aceh]. But Indonesians need to overcome the psychological resistance to the idea of a 'United States of Indonesia.'... The idea of an Indonesian federal state is not new, of course.... Has the time come for this idea to be taken seriously? Perhaps it has."
THAILAND: "Indonesia Coming Apart At The Seams"
The lead editorial of the top-circulation, moderately conservative, English-language Bangkok Post judged (11/13): "The referendum and consequent granting of independence for East Timor has set a dangerous precedent.... Aceh...is now pushing for independence more forcefully than ever before. At the other end of Indonesia, the people of Irian Jaya...are wanting to control their own destiny.... Calls for independence have also been heard from the gas-rich Riau province on Sumatra.... Federalism now appears the only way left for Indonesia to retain its state intact and it must be implemented quickly. Any delay will see more blood spilled, not just in Indonesia but in other areas like Mindanao in the Philippines."
"Acehnese Vs. Javanese"
Pichian Kurathong commented in elite Matichon (11/11): "Once Aceh's bid to secede is realized, Irian Jaya, Sulawesi, and Riau will take turns demanding secession.... Granting greater decentralization and autonomy to these territories should be the best bargaining chip on the part of Indonesians."
"Resource-Rich Aceh Wants Secession"
Cafe Dam commented in elite, business-oriented Krungthep Turakij (11/10): "The Indonesian government may opt for a compromise by granting greater autonomy and sharing more wealth it reaps from the province.... But the million Acehnese who converged last Monday seemed to be shouting, 'Sorry, it's too late for that.'"
"Wahid Gives Troubled Aceh A Ray Of Hope"
The lead editorial of the independent, English-language Nation stressed (11/6): "Much is at stake for Indonesia and its fledgling democracy. Its new leaders have shown they are more sensitive and responsive toward outer provinces than previous administrations. Still, they must ensure these regions get their fair share and that they can be considered equal stake-holders of the new Indonesia at the dawn of the new millennium."
BRITAIN: "Jakarta Looks Up Old Friends To Help Turn Balance Of Power"
The independent Financial Times noted (11/4): "Just two weeks after assuming the presidency of Indonesia, Abdurrahman Wahid today begins a five-day, nine-nation tour of Southeast Asia designed to impress upon neighbors Indonesia's intention to recover its pre-eminent diplomatic role in the region.... The Wahid government may be paving the way for a slow but monumental shift in Indonesian foreign policy that would see it return to principles espoused when it played a big role within the Non-Aligned Movement during the '60s and '70s.... Crucial to these Asian overtures is the importance President Wahid places on building up an 'exceptional' relationship with China.... But some wonder how far Indonesia can really go in this Asian-based direction, because of its continued economic reliance on the West. They note that the president has already made some important, subtle gestures, such as receiving U.S. Ambassador Richard Gelbard as his first visitor on the day after his election, and approving the dispatch of a new ambassador to Australia, an appointment that was held up by Mr. Habibie's government when relations deteriorated over East Timor."
GERMANY: "Uneasy Indonesia"
Wolfgang Guenter Lerch declared in right-of-center Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (11/28): "Separatism and religious hatred is on the increase in Indonesia. Since East Timor has embarked on the path to independence, the strictly Muslim region of Aceh has not come to rest. Efforts to become independent are becoming obvious in demonstrations and crimes that include murder. While President Wahid...visited friendly neighbors, bloody clashes erupted among the Moluccans in Ambon which cost the lives of many Christians and Muslims. It seems that the most populous Muslim state on earth is at a crossroads at the end of this century. Will Wahid be able to keep the island empire together? Or will it disintegrate at its periphery? The latest mission of security forces...[to Aceh] did not decrease the unrest."
"Centrifugal Forces In Indonesia"
Peter Muench queried in centrist Sueddeutsche Zeitung of Munich (11/10): "Was East Timor the beginning of the end of Indonesia?... In addition to freedom, the conflict in Aceh also involves the outflow of wealth from the region, which is rich in natural resources to the center. But religion and the foundation of an Islamic state is also involved.... But there is also one common thread: In Indonesia, everything centers on a new beginning.... The cohesion of the state is not only threatened at the periphery; we can also see friction lines in the center of power. While President Wahid tends to allow a referendum in Aceh, a military spokesman called this 'totally unrealistic.' The fighting in Indonesia centers on freedom and power, but also on old privileges. However, the sum of all this could mean chaos."
Right-of-center Dresdner Neueste Nachrichten asked (11/9): "Was the granting of independence for East Timor the beginning of the end or the end to the beginning of a creeping disintegration of Indonesia? It is a fact that, with President Wahid's approval for a referendum in the Aceh region, the genie has gotten out of the bottle. An increasing number of provinces are now calling for a secession from the central government--greetings from the Balkans.... Wahid knows that he will be unable to stop the domino effect even by using force. The future will tell whether his favored approach, a separation lite, a kind of autonomy within the state will be successful. The hatred against the regime sits too deep and the distrust towards the government is too strong. For Wahid, this is by no means an 'undangerous' challenge."
RUSSIA: "The Last Vent"
Aleksandr Ivanitsky observed in reformist Noviye Izvestiya (12/1): "For Indonesia, federalism is 'the last vent.' The currency catastrophe and the massacre in Timor marked a choice between disintegration and federation. The president chose the latter as the only way to reintegrate the country."
HUNGARY: "Possible Solutions For Aceh"
Leading, business-oriented Vilaggazdasag judged (12/3): "Indonesian President Wahid is in a difficult situation.... He cannot allow his country to fall into pieces.... A bloody civil war is not advantageous for him when his main aim is to bring back...foreign capital.... One option might be that Jakarta offers internal autonomy to Aceh and give it a larger share of oil revenues."
KAZAKHSTAN: "Hard Times Ahead For East TImor"
Official Yegemen Kazakhstan held (11/26): "The situation in Indonesia proved that nobody can force those who want to go [their separate] ways. Resolving the problem of East Timor became a big problem even to such a big country as Indonesia.... But it is also clear that developing its resources alone will be very difficult for the province [East Timor.]"
"Yet Another Rebellious Province"
Weekly independent Delovaya Nedelya warned (11/14): "President Abdurrachman Wahid...has admitted that he is trying to avoid an East Timor-like scenario...of events [in Aceh. His actions are] quite understandable. Indeed, Indonesia has a pretty good list of provinces where the locals in no way want to see emigres from Java, who constitute the principal backbone of the bureaucratic and military apparatus, as [provincial] leaders.... What can one do?... Under pressure from developed countries, the first reform was undertaken in East Timor. Now, perhaps another, and where will the third one be?"
KUWAIT: "U.S. Will Not Let Indonesia Disintegrate"
Independent Al-Watan had this comment (11/9) by Fahmi Huwaidi: "When Mrs. Albright visited Jakarta during the elections, she candidly talked about her country's position toward Indonesia's unity.... One of the people who attended the meeting said the secretary of state required two conditions in return for Washington's support: to solve the East Timor issue by granting its people the right of self-determination and to give the other territories autonomy and a bigger share of revenues. Washington got what it wanted, therefore no other Indonesian territory will separate until further notice."
SYRIA: "After Timor, Aceh"
Riad Zein commented in the government-owned Syria Times (11/14): "Indonesia's sovereignty is being encroached upon under banners of human rights abuses; its national unity is being undermined in favor of secessionist and various groups of opportunists. The troubled--if not tragic--state of affairs in the Indonesian archipelago has unfortunately opened the door wide to foreign forces. The promised festival of democracy and all-out reform was converted into a dramatic procession to yield the independence of Timor.... Aceh is following suit and calling for self-rule.... Suspicious calls for independence and self-rule have camouflaged the dire need for national unity."
INDIA: "Rumblings In Indonesia"
Columnist T.V. Rajeswar penned this analysis for the nationalist Hindustan Times (11/30): "The inspiration for the agitation in Aceh was no doubt from East Timor though the parameters in both the cases were vastly different.... Indonesia is now fully reconciled to the secession of East Timor as an independent state.... While President Wahid may be trying to play a clever game in handling the Acehnese movement for independence, the fire of secessionism has been lit and it may prove difficult to make the Acehnese people accept a form of autonomy instead of independence if a choice is given.... The example of Aceh, if it eventually becomes independent, is going to be even more worrisome for the ASEAN countries. The Philippines and Thailand have Islamic agitationists in their border regions. If these provinces try to break away on the plea of lack of human rights, development and equal opportunities, it could lead to a chaotic situation in many countries like Myanmar and Malaysia, apart from the Philippines and Thailand.... There is [also] a clear warning from all this for India. With the Islamic Kashmir in the north and the Christian states of Nagaland, Mizoram and Meghalaya in the east, the center has to be vigilant and alert and also alive to the aspirations of the people of these sensitive regions."
BANGLADESH: "Loss of Life And Riots In Indonesia"
Top-circulation, Bangla-language Ittefaq wondered (11/28): "Who is behind the occasional communal violence in Indonesia? It is difficult to answer.... General Soeharto plundered the wealth of the country and destroyed Indonesia's institutions of social and religious value. Soeharto inherited the qualities of Hitler and encouraged all the anti-social forces of Indonesia. Communalism is a legacy of the military autocrats. The work before the current government of President Abdurrahman Wahid is to eliminate the present ills through democratic means."
SRI LANKA: "Another Crisis, Aceh"
Vernon L.B. Mendis remarked in the government-owned and -controlled weekly Sunday Observer (11/14): "Predictably, Indonesia is in the throes of another crisis where an East Timor-type situation is building up in Aceh, with agitation by its people for a referendum on its future.... What is dreaded is that a referendum favoring independence for Aceh could be a signal for a wholesale political explosion in the country which could shatter its unity. The stakes in Aceh are thus no less than the future of Indonesia itself, and the need for care and circumspection cannot be overemphasized."
ARGENTINA: "Separatist Fever Growing In Indonesia"
Emilio J. Cardenas, former Argentine representative before the UN, commented in pro-government La Prensa (12/5): "Indonesia has not solved its danger of implosions. The former Dutch colony has several other regional communities which, encouraged by what happened in East Timor, have similar expectations for themselves.... The concept of 'self-determination' should lead to obtaining, in each particular case, the degree of autonomy required to preserve and maintain a particular identity. It cannot lead to separatism or secession. The concept of 'territorial integrity' should prevail--with only one exception. When the central government violates the human rights of the minority demanding self-determination."
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