Subject: IHT: Without Reform, Jakarta's Frail Empire Will Fall

International Herald Tribune 
September 19, 2000


Without Reform, Jakarta's Frail Empire Will Fall

By José Ramos-Horta 
International Herald Tribune

DILI, East Timor - The violence shaking Indonesia - in West Timor, the Moluccas, Aceh, West Papua and now in Jakarta itself - is threatening the giant country along its many ethnic and religious fault lines. A policy of military manipulation and repression is the root cause of this violence.

Indonesians are suffering the legacy of a misgoverned empire inherited from the Netherlands, compounded by more than three decades of brutal and corrupt rule by former President Suharto, backed by the armed forces. The systematic destruction of East Timor by the Indonesian military and its militia proxies, the orchestrated violence in Ambon, the years of war against the Acehnese, the long repression in West Papua, formerly Irian Jaya, were only possible in a society where fundamental civil, human and democratic rights were absent.

With a few noble exceptions, the Indonesian elite simply refuses to accept its responsibility for a country on the verge of disintegration. Instead, many Indonesian officials still invoke narrow nationalism and blame outsiders. They react with wounded pride and indignation, which make serious national self-examination impossible. In this frame of mind, they cannot begin to understand what went wrong.

If so many influential Indonesians, including those in the armed forces, cannot summon the courage and humility to accept that they are to blame for what has gone wrong in so many parts of their empire, then it will break up.

But there is still hope for a united Indonesia if it makes a new commitment to reform and democracy. Genuine autonomy for the regions must be implemented. Unfulfilled promises of autonomy by the government of President Abdurrahman Wahid will not help regain the confidence of disaffected people.

There should be no further compromise and tolerance with tyrants and the forces of evil. Reform of the armed forces, which is virtually at a standstill, must continue. The impunity of the officer caste must end. The victims of military abuses must see justice being done.

An international war crimes tribunal on East Timor should be established.

A year has passed since the Indonesian military presided over the violent depopulation of the territory. The Indonesian legal system has proven incapable of bringing to justice those responsible.

The United States, Europe and Japan should use their leverage and influence to push Indonesia back to the reform path. So should the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Only if serious reforms in the army are under way should the United States and Australia resume military cooperation with Indonesia.

None of Indonesia's neighbors in the Asia-Pacific region wants to see it become like the Balkans. The preservation of Indonesia's national integrity is in the best interests of all.

But if those in the Indonesian elite lack the courage and vision to acknowledge the root causes that threaten the unity of their country, Indonesia's friends can do nothing to prevent the empire from unraveling.

The writer is an East Timorese independence leader who was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996. He contributed this comment to the International Herald Tribune.

September Menu
August Menu
World Leaders Contact List
Human Rights Violations in East Timor
Main Postings Menu

Note: For those who would like to fax "the powers that be" - CallCenter V3.5.8, is a Native 32-bit Voice Telephony software application integrated with fax and data communications... and it's free of charge! Download from