Subject: Interview: Indon envoy to US urges patience toward Indonesia

INTERVIEW-Envoy urges patience toward Indonesia

By Carol Giacomo, Diplomatic Correspondent

WASHINGTON, March 3 (Reuters) - Indonesia's ambassador to the United States, responding to concerns about rampant violence in Borneo and other provinces, has urged patience with his sprawling country's messy effort at democracy.

In an interview with Reuters on Friday, Dorodjatun Kuntjoro-Jakti also expressed optimism that a coup or a return to authoritarianism was unlikely because Indonesians had invested too much hope and effort in free elections.

"I don't think the people, after spending so much time, are going to condone the return of an authority in government like what we saw under (former presidents) Sukarno and Suharto," he said.

"Even the military has already indicated they don't want to support that kind of move," he added.

The current Indonesian president, Abdurrahman Wahid, was elected in Indonesia's first democratic election in 1999 after Suharto was forcibly ousted from office.

But Wahid has come under heavy criticism for not returning from an overseas trip despite savage ethnic violence in the Borneo province of Central Kalimantan in recent days where more than 460 people have been killed.

He also faces mounting political pressure after parliament last month formally censured him for his role in two financial scandals, in what could initiate complex proceedings to impeach him.

Political analysts in Jakarta said there are increasing signs that Vice President Megawati Sukarnoputri is ready to abandon the beleaguered Wahid and step into the top job.

Indonesia, with over 200 million people spread across thousands of islands, has struggled to consolidate young, weak democratic institutions. And unlike some other nations in the region have, it has not recovered from the 1997 Asian economic crisis.

NO FORCED CHANGES

Kuntjoro-Jakti, a friend of Wahid who returns to Jakarta from Washington every three months to advise the president, ruled out any forcible change of leadership.

"How can you move divisions, tanks and so on, in front of hundreds of thousands of students (who are) all over over Indonesia now? ... You can't do that anymore. This is not the 1950s," he said.

"It's up to the political process through the constitution. The formidable fact of elections -- that is something that is understood by all now," said the envoy.

Kuntjoro-Jakti insisted Indonesians, including Megawati, would follow the constitutional process.

"She's the daughter of a president (Sukarno) who also experienced a bad experience during an unconstitutional transition. I don't think Megawati will forget that lesson. We must really adhere now to the ... constitution, no matter how messy, how difficult, how complex," the envoy said.

He stressed the vast untamed nature of Indonesia, spreading over its islands and multiple times zones, and the lack of institutions -- including a system of laws -- that are needed to undergird democracy.

"Everybody has to be patient with Indonesia. Give us time. We have been able to solve many of the problems ourselves in Indonesia," he said.

He said the violence on Borneo was not a surprise during times of economic slowdown in a country with 300 ethnic groups.

CONGRESS ROADBLOCK

Although Indonesia needs to expand its civilian police force and to acquire equipment for its military like helicopters to quell violence in Borneo, Kuntjoro-Jakti said his government has no plans to ask the United States to resume formal military cooperation, halted by the U.S. Congress because of Jakarta's abuses in East Timor.

"How can you convince the U.S. Congress? ...We still have the issue of East Timor and West Timor. So many members of Congress still discuss this based on that issue. So I think it's just not practical at this moment."

Businessmen from Japan, Taiwan and South Korea engaged in manufacturing in Indonesia have been greatly concerned about the violence in Borneo. But American firms, which are mostly invested in off-shore oil and gas exploration, have been relatively unaffected, he said.

So far, the ambassador has not had contacts with the new Bush administration but Indonesia's foreign minister is due in Washington next week for a conference and may have talks.

Also expected is the minister in charge of legal reform, who Kuntjoro-Jakti hopes will be able to convince American firms that the country is making progress developing a system of laws conducive to doing business. 


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