Subject: IPS/Analysis: Indonesia Breaking Up?
Date: Thu, 25 Feb 1999 21:35:18 -0500
From: Tapol <plovers@gn.apc.org>

Received from Joyo

*Indonesia Breaking Up?

Analysis - By Farhan Haq

UNITED NATIONS, Feb 22 (IPS) - Panicky diplomatic cables, emboldened insurgencies, dispirited bureaucrats: all these these signs of a country fraying at the seams are evident in Indonesia.

For three decades the regime of President Suharto defended its vice-like grip on East Timor, adamant that it never would allow the secession of any part of what it declared to be Indonesia.

But now, amid the economic woes and political weakness of the post-Suharto era, East Timor is moving rapidly away from the Jakarta government's orbit and other regions may be inspired to follow suit.

''A new Balkanisation will occur soon in this part of the world,'' predicted John Ondawame, international spokesman for the Free Papua Movement, which seeks the independence of the Indonesian province of Irian Jaya (also called West New Guinea).

Yugoslavia collapsed following the death of Josip Broz Tito, the World War II partisan leader who ''forcibly united'' its Balkan states, noted Ondawame. With the end of Suharto's 33-years- long dictatorship, he pointed out ''not everybody accepts the nation-state of Indonesia.''

In addition to East Timor, which is preparing for either autonomy or independence within the year, Irian Jaya, Aceh, the Moluccan Islands and even Bali may want varying degrees of freedom from central rule, Ondawame told reporters here.

That argument raised the spectre many officials within and outside Jakarta feared most: the break-up of the world's fourth most populous nation, where 200 million people live on more than 13,700 islands.

The first signs of official panic over Indonesia's break-up have begun over East Timor. An Australian newspaper, The Age, reprinted official cables sent last week to the Australian government warning of a refugee flood of as many as 15,000 East Timorese in coming months.

The cables claimed there could be a ''brain-drain in the public sector, key utilities and service industries'' if Indonesian rule evaporates too quickly in East Timor.

Indonesian opposition leader Amien Rais noted last week how quickly matters had shifted.

Indonesian bureaucrats already were leaving East Timor, he said ''and once they do that, independence is only a matter of weeks.'' Rais warned that a civil war in the territory, seized by Indonesia in 1975, was ''imminent'' and that the release of Timorese resistance leader Xanana Gusmao, now under house arrest, may become necessary.

''The objective situation will progress much faster than we expect,'' Rais argued.

Even Timorese leaders newly hopeful of their region's independence are worried that events may spin out of control.

''We need a period of time to settle things in East Timor,'' said Constancio Pinto, U.S. representative of the National Council of Timorese Resistance, a coalition of pro-independence forces. ''We want to make East Timor as stable a state as possible.''

To that end, pro-independence Timorese want the United Nations to send peacekeepers to the territory to maintain human rights and observe the withdrawal of more than 100,000 Indonesian troops and security forces. In addition, Pinto argued, East Timor must be under an ''interim rule'' monitored by the United Nations for about three years, during which time combatants on all sides can be disarmed.

Otherwise, warned Joao Carrascalao, president of the Union of Democratic Timorese, which favours an end to Indonesian rule, Jakarta may arm anti- independence Timorese. ''What is going to happen is a massacre of the civilian population again,'' he contended.

That warning recalled the unrest in 1975, when Portugal abruptly ended nearly four centuries of colonial rule in East Timor, and various factions fought each other for control before Indonesia invaded. More than 200,000 Timorese - about a third of the island state's population - died in the ensuing bloodbath.

U.N. officials are pushing for a moderate approach, with special envoy Jamsheed Marker having concluded one phase of autonomy talks between the Indonesian and Portuguese governments earlier this month. Some officials have indicated the need for a U.N. force, possibly with Indonesian and Portuguese members, to keep the calm in East Timor as independence looms.

Nevertheless, there is a limit to the areas which the United Nations can patrol in the coming months. Muslims in the province of Aceh have been restive, and prior to Suharto's fall - and the rise of President Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie, who is viewed more positively by conservative Islamist leaders - demonstrated repeatedly against Jakarta's rule.

Other areas of Jakarta's far-flung rule also have been emboldened to consider independence or referenda to determine their status.

Ondawame argued that West Papua - seized by Indonesia after Dutch rule ended and annexed under the name Irian Jaya in 1963 - should now have a referendum to determine the status of its roughly 1.5 million people.

''We've been neglected for years,'' he said. ''No-one wanted to touch the issue of West Papua.''

There may still be wariness to touch such issues now. Jakarta's problems are many, and few want to chance a bloody break-up amid its current financial woes.

Indonesia's economy remains battered by the Asian financial crises since 1997, and a new World Bank report harshly criticised the Bank and other agencies for being lulled by the ''halo effect'' of Suharto's long rule into accepting his government's corruption and economic inefficiency.

Meanwhile, opposition leaders like Rais and Megawati Sukarnoputri seem ready to vie with Habibie if fair elections are held.

Under such conditions, Habibie has made it clear that he wants the thorny East Timor question off the table by year's end - but has insisted equally strongly that Indonesia's territorial integrity will not be questioned. (END/IPS/fah/mk/99)


Paul Barber TAPOL, the Indonesia Human Rights Campaign, 25 Plovers Way, Alton Hampshire GU34 2JJ Tel/Fax: 1420 80153 Email: plovers@gn.apc.org Internet: www.gn.apc.org/tapol Defending victims of oppression in Indonesia, East Timor, West Papua and Aceh, 1973-1998

Back to February Menu
Main Postings Menu

Postings of Human Rights Violations in Timor