Subject: AU: Indonesian Official admits mistakes in Timor

The Australian

Official admits mistakes in Timor

Stephen Fitzpatrick, Jakarta correspondent

10aug06

ONE of Indonesia's most senior officials has admitted that his country was directly responsible for failing to stop the murderous chaos that accompanied its withdrawal from East Timor in 1998.

Dino Patti Djalal, a senior Foreign Ministry staffer at the time, said the withdrawal was conducted in an "irrational" manner and that Jakarta never displayed the "heart and will to rein in" Indonesian-backed militia groups who slaughtered thousands after East Timor's independence referendum in 1999.

Speaking at the launch of an analysis of the period by former foreign minister Ali Alatas, Mr Djalal - now President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's official spokesman - made an impassioned plea for Indonesia to learn from its mistakes in East Timor.

He said that if those lessons were not learned "by political officials and security officials, it will not be possible to solve the problems of Aceh, Poso and Papua" - all regions that have experienced extreme ethnic and nationalist revolt. Aceh has recently come under a new autonomy law after a decades-long independence struggle.

Launching his book, The Pebble in the Shoe: The Diplomatic Struggle for East Timor, Mr Alatas claimed that the Suharto regime's 24-year occupation of the tiny country had been more benign than was generally recognised and that it was Suharto's erratic successor, BJ Habibie, who was responsible for the poor decisions.

Speaking from the floor during a question-and-answer session afterwards, Mr Djalal went further, saying Indonesia had misruled East Timor but laying the blame for the chaos that accompanied its withdrawal squarely at Dr Habibie's feet.

Dr Habibie, who had replaced the dictator Suharto in 1998, responded petulantly to a letter from John Howard at the end of the same year suggesting an autonomy option for East Timor. His offer of a referendum proposing independence or integration with Indonesia was made in haste and without regard to "the situation on the ground", Mr Djalal said.

"When you sent me to East Timor to assess the situation (in 1999), it was clear that the people were not ready there, they did not know the concept (of independence)," Mr Djalal told his former boss, Mr Alatas.

"I have spent many sleepless nights thinking about this because we put a timetable straitjacket on the referendum and all because BJ Habibie wanted to take the result to the MPR (Indonesia's upper house of parliament). It was not rational.

"We thought we could just splash lots of money about and that would signify something. We were wrong. East Timor became a police state, we were bribing people we thought were loyal to us, and doing horrible things to people we thought were not loyal to us."

Dr Habibie's eccentric and unpredictable rule has been criticised from outside Indonesia but last night's statements were among the strongest to have been made at official levels in Jakarta.

Mr Djalal's assessment was backed last night by a one-time senior Suharto administration figure, former industry minister Hartato, who said from the floor that the occupation of East Timor was "still an extremely important problem for Indonesia" and that it "must become an issue of extreme introspection for us -- I very much agree with what the young man has said".

Mr Alatas responded to Mr Djalal's comments by agreeing that Indonesia must learn from its East Timor mistakes and be careful "not to disregard our problems in the regions, such as in Aceh and Papua".

Former ambassador to Australia Sabam Siagian, unlike Mr Djalal an official speaker at last night's launch, warned that there was still an overwhelmingly Java-centric approach to the way Indonesia's outer islands were administered, something that had contributed to the disaster of East Timor and could continue to create problems.


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