Subject: Controversial Indonesian diplomat Alatas dies, Official Australia mourns

also also: Official Aust Saddened By Death Of Alatas; Singapore praises former Indonesian FM Alatas

The Age

Controversial Indonesian diplomat Alatas dies aged 76

Tom Allard, Indonesia

December 12, 2008

ALI ALATAS was remembered yesterday as a consummate diplomat and fierce patriot who fought hard for Indonesia's interests, whether acting for the dictatorship of Suharto or as an envoy-at-large and presidential adviser in the new, democratic Indonesia.

The long-serving Indonesian foreign minister died yesterday, aged 76, in a Singapore hospital. He had reportedly suffered a heart attack.

Mr Alatas was perhaps best known in Australia for defending Indonesia's often bloody occupation of East Timor and the famous footage of him clinking champagne flutes with then Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans on a jet above the Timor Sea as they divvied up the valuable gas and oil resources below.

The urbane diplomat remained in demand and widely respected around the world long after the collapse of the Suharto regime. He played a vital role in securing peace in Aceh and Cambodia and securing a better economic deal for the developing countries of South-East Asia.

Mr Alatas summed up his credo as a foreign minister and envoy: "Diplomacy is like playing cards. Don't show them all, but drop them one by one."

A spokesman for Indonesia's President, whom Mr Alatas continued to advise up until his death, said Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was "sad and shocked" by the death.

"In the milestones of his career, his highest achievement was when, together with the French government, he helped to solve the bloody conflict in Cambodia," the spokesman said. "But, ironically, he didn't get the credit he deserved from it."

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd also paid tribute.

"Mr Alatas was a great friend of Australia and made an outstanding contribution to the Asia-Pacific region," Mr Rudd said.

Mr Alatas was fond of Australia. He recalled to journalist Mike Carlton how, as a teenager, he saw Australian troops come past his village at the end of World War II.

Their slouch hats caught his eye, and he was surprised the diggers waved and smiled at the villagers, something neither the former Dutch colonialists nor the recent Japanese occupiers had been inclined to do.

In 1995, Mr Alatas received the Order of Australia from the Keating government, an unprecedented award for a serving foreign minister of another country.

Allan Gyngell, executive director of the Lowy Institute and former Keating government foreign affairs adviser, said Mr Alatas worked hard to change misconceptions Australians and Indonesians had about each other.

In Australia, the view was that Indonesia was aggressively expansionist and ultimately eyeing off Australia. Indonesians saw Australia as wanting to break up the republic.

"He was a wonderful interpreter of Indonesia to the world, and the world to Indonesia," Mr Gyngell said.

Mr Alatas had many critics over his role in East Timor. He defended the massacre of innocents at Santa Cruz cemetery in 1991 and once described the rights abuses during Indonesia's occupation as a "pebble in our shoes".

Still, Emil Salim, a friend and former Suharto cabinet member, said yesterday that Mr Alatas did not object entirely to East Timor's independence.

"He was not against (the independence) referendum. What he questioned at that time was the timing," Mr Salim said.

In the documentary East Timor, independence activist (and current East Timor President) Jose Ramos Horta described him as a "hypocrite" and a "bastard". Yesterday afternoon, a spokesman for Mr Ramos Horta said he was mulling over a message of condolence to Indonesia.

Mr Alatas began his career as a journalist before becoming a diplomat. He worked for Adam Malik, the foreign minister and confidant of Indonesia's first president, Sukarno, and twice represented his country at the United Nations before becoming foreign minister under Suharto.

Even after Suharto was ousted following a mass uprising, Mr Alatas kept his post.

Much in demand following his retirement from government service, he unsuccessfully tried to win the release of Burmese democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi, played a key role in the Aceh peace deal and was recently appointed commissioner of the International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament. He was also a permanent representative of the United Nations secretary-general.

Indonesian officials said prayers would be held in Singapore before Mr Alatas' body was flown back to Jakarta. His funeral will be held today in South Jakarta.


Aust Saddened By Death Of Alatas

By Sandra O'Malley and Karen Michelmore

CANBERRA, Dec 11 AAP - Former Indonesian foreign minister Ali Alatas, who spent decades strengthening ties between Australia and his homeland, died on Thursday, aged 76.

Alatas was foreign minister between 1988 and 1999 and was named an Officer of the Order of Australia in 1995 for his diplomatic efforts to bring the two neighbouring nations closer together.

Most recently he has acted as an adviser and special envoy to Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Australia paid tribute to the career diplomat who served as foreign minister under Indonesian presidents Suharto and BJ Habibie.

He died in a Singapore hospital, reportedly of a heart attack, after suffering a stroke last week.

"We have lost a son of the nation, the most excellent diplomat we ever had," AP quoted senior Indonesian Foreign Ministry official Primo Alui Joelianto as saying.

Foreign Minister Stephen Smith offered his condolences for the man whom he described as an influential figure in international diplomacy.

"Ali Alatas was a significant historical figure who made a major contribution to the modern Australia-Indonesia relationship," Mr Smith said in a statement.

"He did much to help shape the regional institutions that today play such an important part in underpinning stability and economic prosperity in South-East Asia and the broader Asia-Pacific region.

"Ali Alatas, a regular visitor to Australia, was an important partner for successive Australian governments in working to strengthen Australia-Indonesia relations."

In September, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd named Alatas a commissioner on the recently formed International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament.

Mr Rudd said Mr Alatas was a great friend of Australia who "made an outstanding contribution to the Asia-Pacific region.

"Mr Alatas contributed both vision and hard work to strengthening the political, economic and personal links between our two countries," he said on Thursday.

In Indonesia, his death cast a pall over the two-day Bali Democracy Forum, which aims to promote democracy in the region.

Mr Rudd co-chaired the meeting with Dr Yudhoyono on Wednesday, and Australia was represented by Bob McMullan, Australia's Parliamentary Secretary for International Development Assistance, on Thursday.

"We are really sad to hear of the death of Ali Alatas," Mr McMullan told AAP.

Mr McMullan said news of the death had affected all the Bali forum participants who knew him or were aware of his role.

"In a sense it would have stopped any exuberance, but it didn't deter anybody from the work," he said.

The forum - attended by representatives from dozens of countries, democratic and non-democratic alike - was due to wind up Thursday afternoon.

Mr McMullan said the fact that many non-democracies, such as Burma, China and Vietnam had shown up was a positive sign.

"What is welcome about this is that it isn't just a meeting of people who are already democracies," he said.

"It deals with countries who aspire to be democracies and some others who are still a long way away."

He also announced a $1 million two-year grant for Indonesia's National Commission on Violence Against Women, which will be used to help promote human rights and women's rights in Indonesia.


Singapore praises former Indonesian FM Alatas

SINGAPORE, Dec 11 (AFP) -- Singapore on Thursday praised Indonesia's former foreign minister Ali Alatas as a well-respected statesman who believed in regional cooperation.

Alatas died earlier Thursday in Singapore where he had been receiving medical treatment, Singapore's foreign ministry said in a statement.

"He was a well-respected statesman, in Indonesia, ASEAN and the rest of the international community. He was a firm believer in regional cooperation and a tireless promoter of ASEAN. He played a crucial role in drafting the ASEAN Charter," the Singapore statement said.

Indonesia and Singapore are both members of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

The ASEAN Charter, which commits the bloc to promote democracy and human rights, is to come into force next week.

As foreign minister from 1988 to 1999, Alatas was the public face of strongman Suharto's regime before it collapsed in 1998. Alatas continued as foreign minister under Suharto's successor, B.J. Habibie, who allowed a 1999 United Nations-administered referendum in which East Timor voted for independence.

At least 1,400 people were killed during militia violence organised by the Indonesian security forces ahead of and after the referendum.

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