Subject: USGOV: Briefing on Albright Trip to Indonesia
Date: Thu, 25 Feb 1999 21:43:18 -0500
From: "John M. Miller" <>



In Indonesia, the secretary will be arriving at a crucial moment, a crucial moment because of course, that Indonesia is preparing for elections, which we hope will be the first free and fair elections in Indonesia since 1955. Ironically, it's a situation where a majority of Indonesia's population was not even born the last time the country had a genuinely free and fair election. And the secretary will be sending the message, of course, about the need to make sure that these elections are free, fair and credible; that it's gotten off to a good start, that the political laws have been passed. All the major opposition parties have indicated that they are participating in the electoral process. And in fact, as far as I can tell, this is the first recent election in Indonesia where we won't know the outcome the day before the election. And that, in and of itself, is significant.

But at the same time, there are many formidable hurdles left before the election is carried our successfully, including technical issues; training of poll-watchers, observers, arranging the procedures for monitoring, counting of the votes, securing the ballots.

And there are issues such as "money politics," which is the Indonesian term for, you know, whether or not there will be an effort to buy votes by certain special interests in the country. And there is the question of violence, which has plagued some past elections, not only in Indonesia, but other countries in Southeast Asia. So far from taking it as a given that the election will succeed, we want to stress the importance and urge the Indonesians to take the steps necessary in order to ensure that they, in fact, do succeed. In addition, the secretary will certainly want to talk about the East Timor situation. Obviously, the situation has changed dramatically in the wake of President Habibie's offer, which was that if the people of East Timor decide not to accept autonomy, then that Indonesia would be prepared to grant independence, possibly as early as the beginning of the next year. And this has certainly been a radical change in the calculation. And the secretary will want to discuss, with a number of Indonesians officials, the question of how do you bring about, first of all, the choice? How do you get an opportunity for the people of East Timor to provide -- to indicate what their choice is between autonomy and independence? And then how do you provide for the transition in terms which avoid a return to violence that characterized the situation when Portugal withdrew in 1975? So there are an awful lot of details to talk about in terms of what Indonesia does, what the Timorese do, what the international community does.

And once again, I would expect that the secretary will have a full range of appointments. Obviously, Foreign Minister Alatas will be her primary interlocutor. I would expect her to see the president, other key officials, and certainly representatives of some of the opposition parties. We will make it quite clear that, in going to Indonesia, the secretary is trying to send messages on some of these issues; the need for a peaceful resolution of Timor and the need for free and fair elections. And we are definitely not going to tilt or to take a position in the elections themselves. We are scrupulously neutral and, therefore, will make a point of seeing both government and opposition leaders during the trip.

Other issues that will, of course, come up during the course of Indonesia will include the problems relating to the violence which has occurred so tragically in many provinces in Indonesia, with a focus on what steps can be taken to stop it; what should the government be doing; can they do more than they're already doing. Obviously, there will have to be a discussion about the economy, with Indonesia being one of the hardest-hit, if not the hardest-hit, of the Asian countries affected by the financial crisis; the steps they've taken, what else can be done in order to ensure that there is not -- well, one, to try to help them as much as can recover from the crisis, but also to try to prevent a situation where economic instability and difficulties could lead to political instability. So the economy will figure quite high on the trip itself. So, as you can see, it's rather a full plate of issues in Indonesia. Why don't I stop there and open it up to questions. ...

Q Back to East Timor, please. What's the American position concerning the stability force operated by the United Nations for a transitional period and other points of -- today or yesterday the Australian foreign minister announced the constitution of the contact group between Australia and Japan, the United States, maybe Portugal for the East Timor problem, other points of the agenda, for instance disarmament or a referendum in East Timor. What's the position of the United States concerning all these points?

SR. ADMIN OFFICIAL: Well, I think the question itself, you know, reflects some misunderstanding of the situation, because I think first of all you have to have a decision on the next step, which is autonomy. And until there is a decision on that, you can't answer many of the questions which you've just raised, because there's an entirely different scenario if you move towards autonomy than if you move towards independence in terms of the role of Indonesia, in terms of the role of the international community, in terms of financial support. So one of the things that's simply going to have to be worked out is the finalization of the autonomy proposal, figuring out how to present that proposal to the people of East Timor for decision, and then we'll have to figure out the consequences. So, you know, in a sense, the question is premature. In terms of the contact group, we'll think about it. I mean, we haven't reached a decision yet. The key criteria will obviously be whether we think it'll be helpful.

Back to February Menu
Main Postings Menu

Postings of Human Rights Violations in Timor