Subject: RT: Indonesians to seek more autonomy if Timor goes
Date: Thu, 28 Jan 1999 10:00:52 -0500
From: "John M. Miller" <>

Indonesians to seek more autonomy if Timor goes 04:22 a.m. Jan 28, 1999 Eastern

By Jonathan Thatcher

JAKARTA, Jan 28 (Reuters) - If East Timor went on its own, Indonesia's military has long argued, other provinces would start to break off and the huge tropical archipelago would disintegrate.

``It was totally ridiculous. They can't say that anymore,'' political analyst Mohammad Hikam said on Thursday.

On Wednesday, Indonesia announced it might consider letting impoverished East Timor go it alone after years of doggedly repeating it would never allow such a move.

It was the domino theory that brought an unwilling East Timor into the Indonesian fold and a variation on the theme that has kept it there for the past 23 years in what has largely been a disastrous relationship for both sides.

In 1975, when Indonesia invaded the former Portuguese colony as it descended into civil war, one dominant Timorese faction that emerged was allegedly communist.

The invasion followed within days of a visit to Jakarta by then President Gerald Ford who had earlier in the year watched South Vietnam's fall to the communist advance from the north.

The Indonesian government clung on to the impoverished territory, brushing aside an international outcry over its genocidal policies there, saying that if East Timor was given independence it would trigger secession elsewhere.

But analysts said that now looks a bogus argument which was used by the disgraced regime of former President Suharto to justify crushing any threat to the central power of Jakarta.

What an independent East Timor will bring, say analysts, is greater demand for autonomy from provinces whose citizens will want more say in how their wealth is shared out and how they run their lives.

``I'm not one who believes that if East Timor goes, others will follow,'' said Dewi Fortuna Anwar, a close aide of Suharto's successor President B.J. Habibie.

``But genuine concerns about a centrifugal force (pulling Indonesia apart) due to the economic crisis and abuses by the military can't be lightly dismissed,'' she added.

It is those issues, not a question whether to belong to Indonesia, that is causing the problems, she said.

The government realised democracy could only take root if there was more regional autonomy, Anwar said.

Since the fall of Suharto and his iron-fisted style of rule, law and order has steadily collapsed throughout the archipelago of 17,000 islands.

At least 70 people have been killed this month in violence in the rebellious northern province of Aceh and most recently in the spice islands at the other end of the archipelago where secessionst movements were strong in the early years of Indonesian independence after World War Two.

Indonesia's more than 300 ethnic groups and population of 200 million people now form a country that mirrors more the colonial bloc created by the Dutch over three centuries than any older historial unity.

Within the group, independence movements continue to bubble, notably in the resource rich provinces of Aceh in northern Sumatra, and Irian Jaya on New Guinea island.

And there is widespread discontent over what is perceived as Jakarta's greed for the regions' resources and disregard for their welfare.

But the drive, say analysts, to create a sense of being Indonesian over the past 53 years of independence has largely succeeded.

``I don't think there will be any Balkanisation of Indonesia,'' said Hikam. ``What will happen is that there will be tremendous demand for greater autonomy.''

Key will be June's planned general election, which is meant to set the country on the road to democracy after years of autocratic rule, Australian specialist on Indonesia Harold Crouch said.

``It (breaking up of the country) is not an immediate threat ... as long as people feel they are getting a fair share,'' Crouch said.

``There is a lot the government can do if it gets to the problem quick enough,'' he added.

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