Subject: Alatas on E. Timor: RI Underestimated Power of NGOs
The Jakarta Post
Alatas' Book Teaches RI Not to Repeat Timor Leste Tragedy
Abdul Khalik, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
photo: In His Own Write: Former foreign minister Ali Alatas (left) autographs a copy of his memoirs Wednesday for the chairwoman of the Duta Bangsa Education Institute Mien R. Uno (center), while The Jakarta Post's Senior Editor Sabam Siagian looks on. Alatas launched The Pebble in the Shoe: The Diplomatic Struggle for East Timor at the National Archive building in Central Jakarta. (JP/R. Berto Wedhatama)
Ali Alatas learned how to navigate his way around the corridors of power as a highly respected diplomat, including serving as foreign minister in the Soeharto and Habibie administrations.
Those diplomatic skills were put to the test in the thorny problem of the then East Timor, with Alatas detailing his struggle in the aptly titled The Pebble in the Shoe -- The Diplomatic Struggle for East Timor.
It was officially launched at the National Archives building in West Jakarta on Wednesday, with remarks by noted journalist Aristides Katoppo, Indonesia's former permanent representative to the UN Nugroho Wisnumurti and former ambassador to Australia and director of The Jakarta Post Sabam Siagian.
Katoppo is also a representative of both Aksara Kurnia and United in Diversity that published the book.
Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda, prominent figures and several foreign ambassadors attended the Wednesday's launching ceremony.
Nugroho praised the factual strength of the 330-page book, with more new details than previous books on Timor Leste, including on why Indonesia decided to enter East Timor, the series of diplomatic meetings and negotiations between Indonesia, Portugal and the UN, and the how decision was made to give Timor Leste what a popular consultation that led to its independence from Indonesia and establishment as Timor Leste.
Sabam said the book was part of the effort to give a complete account of Timor Leste, with a vivid description of how the Foreign Ministry and then foreign minister were bypassed by Habibie and his advisers on the East Timor referendum.
Despite Alatas' assertion that the book was not intended to refute misrepresentations about Timor Leste in many previous books, he wrote in the foreword: " ... Here and there in my reading (of many other books) I have come across a few versions and details that do not correspond to what I believe actually transpired."
With almost all of the other East Timor works authored by foreign observers, Alatas believed it was time for a book based on the perspective of an Indonesian citizen intimately involved in the Timor Leste question for all of the 25 years of his experience.
Alatas said the Indonesian public needed to know what happened during Indonesia's struggle to retain Timor Leste, especially the closed-door negotiations from 1983 to 1999, to avoid false myths and accusations that it was a struggle between good -- meaning East Timor -- on the one side, and bad -- Indonesia -- on the other.
"It is to be hoped that valuable lesson will be learned and to be used to develop our nation," he told the audience.
Alatas underlined that the most important aspect that Indonesian political leaders can learn from Timor Leste for the future was how to treat areas vulnerable to secession, such as Papua and Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam.
He also said the case of Timor Leste showed that Indonesia should never underestimate the power of non-governmental organizations when they united behind a particular cause. They could influence their respective governments, he added, and had showed that Timor Leste was not "a mere pebble anymore but became something that burdened Indonesia".
Presidential spokesman Dino Patti Djalal, who was also an Alatas aide for Timor Leste, said the book taught many valuable lessons.
This included, he added, that Indonesia failed to win the hearts and minds of the Timor Leste people by simply pouring money into the province, and letting the military and intelligence play a greater role in the area.
Indonesia occupied the former Portuguese colony in 1975. In a UN-sponsored referendum in 1999, the people overwhelmingly voted for separation from Indonesia. In May 2002, it became an independent state.