Subject: NYTimes: Indonesia's Relations With U.S. Sour Over Charge of Meddling

The New York Times October 29, 2000

Indonesia's Relations With U.S. Sour Over Charge of Meddling


JAKARTA, Indonesia, Oct. 29 -- Relations between the United States and Indonesia have deteriorated rapidly following a series of high-profile disputes between the American Ambassador here and Indonesian officials and lawmakers, who have accused the United States of meddling.

Apparently as a result, protests and threats against American citizens, companies, and facilities are on the rise in this country, which has the world's fourth-largest population. Fearing what it called a "credible threat of attack," the United States Embassy in Jakarta has closed its doors to the public for the foreseeable future.

The ambassador, Richard Gelbard, is under heavy guard after death threats and calls by Indonesian lawmakers for his removal.

For many Indonesians, the rupture in the traditionally friendly relations between the two countries can be traced to Mr. Gelbard, who since assuming his post here last year has been an outspoken critic of corruption and what he sees as the Indonesian Government's slow pace of economic and social reform.

An embassy spokesman said that relations between the United States and Indonesia were "not quite on the best footing as one would hope." The spokesman said that the embassy was "deeply disappointed by the actions of senior Indonesian government officials, who seem determined to create a rift in an otherwise historically strong bilateral relationship."

Indonesia is heavily dependent on the United States for aid, trade, and investment. The United States provided Indonesia with about $130 million in aid for fiscal year 2000, and in the first half of this year, the United States surpassed Japan as the leading market for Indonesia's non-oil exports. American mining, energy, and apparel companies have huge investments here. The embassy estimates that about 8,000 Americans are living in Indonesia.

Now, the State Department has advised Americans in Indonesia to keep a low profile, saying unrest and violence could erupt with little warning.

The United States Embassy said in a statement today that its consular and visa services, which were hastily closed last week, would not reopen as scheduled on Monday because of a continuing threat of attack, though it declined to give specifics.

In recent weeks, the embassy has been the scene of angry and sometimes violent protests, fueled not only by the diplomatic discord but also by growing sentiment in Indonesia, a predominately Muslim country, that the United States has favored Israel over the Palestinians in the recent Middle East violence.

Today, about 100 young men from radical Muslim groups stalked through the major hotels of the city of Solo, about 260 miles southeast of Jakarta, searching for Americans whom they vowed to expel from the city.

Yatno, an employee of the Novotel Solo Hotel, said in a telephone interview that the young men, dressed in white robes, descended on the hotel and demanded to see a guest list. When the manager refused, the group distributed leaflets demanding that all Americans leave Indonesia within 48 hours and warning hotels in Solo not to accept Americans as guests.

Kalono, leader of the Lazkar Jundullah, one of the radical Muslim groups, told the Detikcom local news service that his organization had evidence that American citizens and military personnel have been instigating the religious and separatist violence and unrest raging across Indonesia.

"We will conduct sweeps through the hotels at least once a week," Mr. Kalono was quoted as saying. "If we find any Americans, we take firm action against them." The group also demanded that Mr. Gelbard be replaced as ambassador.

Mr. Gelbard, a former anti-narcotics chief at the State Department and envoy to Bosnia, has strongly criticized Indonesia for failing to bring its military under greater civilian control and to disarm militia gangs that are accused of killing three United Nations refugee workers in West Timor last month.

Mr. Gelbard's brash, in-your-face manner has clashed sharply with the typically calm, nonconfrontational style politics practiced by the Javanese who dominate the higher ranks of the Indonesian government and Parliament. Several officials and legislators have accused Mr. Gelbard of interfering in Indonesia's domestic affairs, including trying to influence cabinet-level and senior military appointments.

Some lawmakers have demanded that Mr. Gelbard be recalled, while others have threatened to declare him persona non-grata.

Last week, Foreign Minister Alwi Shihab said he had summoned Mr. Gelbard to clarify local news media reports that the ambassador had tried to influence the recent appointment of a new army chief, which the United States Embassy emphatically denied.

"He should learn about the psychology of Indonesians," Mr. Alwi said of Mr. Gelbard in a recent meeting with reporters. "Though he might have good intentions, if he doesn't understand the culture it could be misinterpreted."

A spokesman for Mr. Gelbard said that he was not available to be interviewed for this article.

Several Indonesian foreign ministry officials said in interviews that while much of what Mr. Gelbard says is fair and accurate, much is lost in his delivery.

"No matter how bad the medicine, it tastes a little better if it's administered with a kindness and respect," said a ministry official.

A Japanese diplomat based in Jakarta praised Mr. Gelbard's outspokenness, though. "Mr. Gelbard has the respect of the diplomatic corps here because he says the right things -- things that other ambassadors want to say but cannot because of their countries' restrictions," the diplomat said. Japan is one of Indonesia's leading donors and investors.

While Indonesian officials have been quick to denounce Mr. Gelbard for his assertiveness, few have been willing to criticize their own colleagues, who in recent weeks have made seemingly groundless accusations against the United States that have further eroded diplomatic relations and stirred up anti-American sentiment here.

Last week, Defense Minister Mahfud M. D.said that an American tourist arrested in the separatist province of Irian Jaya was a spy and that Mr. Gelbard had intervened to prevent the tourist from being deported. Asked to clarify his accusation, Mr. Mahfud declined.

In a statement, the United States Embassy said that it lamented "the defense minister's repeatedly false accusatory statements, along with the those of other cabinet level officials that are contributing to a disinformation campaign that is creating a rapidly deteriorating environment hostile to United States interests in Indonesia."

Historically, Indonesia and the United States have enjoyed harmonious relations, even during three-decade dictatorship of former President Suharto, who stepped down in 1998 when the country fell into economic and social chaos.

The country's first democratic government came to power one year ago with the election of President Abdurrahman Wahid. Mr. Wahid's government has been struggling to rebuild the economy, install democratic institutions, crack down on corruption, and control regional and religious violence across Indonesia, a vast archipelago of 220 million people of a variety of races and ethnic groups.

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