Subject: Megawati and East Timor

also: Mega may go ahead with E. Timor visit

The Jakarta Post April 26, 2002


Megawati and East Timor

Bantarto Bandoro, Editor, The Indonesian Quarterly Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Jakarta

The invitation extended by the president-elect of East Timor, Xanana Gusmao, to President Megawati Soekarnoputri to attend that territory's independence celebration on May 20 has driven people here in this country to polemic.

Certain members of the academic community have sent a clear message that Megawati should not skip Dili's independence declaration, while most politicians and other members of the legislature have urged Megawati to boycott the ceremony. Although Coordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs Gen. (ret.) Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono announced on Thursday that Megawati would fulfill the invitation, the issue remains controversial.

Perhaps some still remember when Megawati expressed her strong opposition to the 1999 UN-sponsored self-determination ballot in East Timor. One can only wonder about her exact feelings on the end results of that ballot. If it is eventually decided that Megawati will not accept the invitation to attend the ceremony, it will probably be because of these feelings.

However, that East Timor has emerged as an independent entity is a political fact that cannot be ignored, especially by Indonesia, which shares a border with the new country.

Much of what happened in the past with regard to East Timor seems relevant to the present debate. But, of course, there are some people who cannot discuss this issue without becoming overly emotional, particularly those who exhausted their energies trying to develop East Timor and thus are absolutely against the territory's separation from Indonesia.

The future of East Timor will certainly be different from the time it spent under the authoritarian rule of Indonesia. As the youngest member of the international community, East Timor will have to go through the extremely difficult period of nation building. Xanana Gusmao made clear that the transition to independence will not be easy after centuries of Portuguese colonial rule, followed by more than 20 years under Indonesian military rule.

Xanana has reportedly expressed his sincere commitment to developing a good neighbor policy. And he has gone out of his way to bury the hatchet with Indonesia, as he understands the importance of having a positive and constructive relationship with such a close and large neighbor.

This is perhaps the message that is carried by the invitation extended to the government of Indonesia; one should not simply assume that the invitation was meant to test the leadership of Megawati, especially with regard to the issue of East Timor.

Given this, it is difficult to understand why a politician the caliber of Akbar Tanjung has adhered to the idea that Megawati should ignore the invitation, arguing that problems related to East Timor's independence remain unresolved.

Although the past 25 years shook the faith of both Indonesia and East Timor, it is still fashionable to believe the countries can develop an underlying harmony of interest in the future that will become the basis for resolving any remaining problems.

It is against such a background that Megawati should accept the invitation. Megawati's presence at the independence ceremony would send a clear signal to all members of the international community that both countries have buried old grievances and are eagerly looking to the future. Furthermore, Indonesia's international image would certainly be helped by Megawati's presence.

Efforts by both sides, once they have established diplomatic ties, to make the harmony more explicit by promoting mutual interests and other activities are essential, in terms of the two countries future contributions to the development and stability of the region.

It is thus not irrational to think that East Timor may become part of Indonesia's regional diplomacy. It would be understandable if history cast a shadow over future relations between Indonesia and East Timor. But a true commitment by both sides to develop a better relationship would gradually eliminate the bad feelings. And domestically, this would also help reconcile contradicting views with regard to the issue of East Timor.

The emergence of East Timor as an independent entity has made the territory the focus of international assistance. It is perhaps here that Indonesia should initiate policies that would hopefully win the hearts of the East Timorese.

Economically, East Timor may be insignificant compared to Indonesia. But its strong international political network cannot be ignored, being evidence of the continuing international support for an independent East Timor. If Megawati rejected the invitation from Xanana Gusmao, it would mean ignoring of the reality that East Timor will one day be an important player in regional networking.

The great transformation that has taken place in East Timor will drastically change the political, economic and security landscape of the region. Once the territory attains full independence, the opportunity is there for East Timor to become a member of the regional organizations, be it in the Southeast Asian region or in the Asia Pacific.

But historically and geographically, East Timor belongs to Southeast Asia. It is just as much a part of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as it was once part of Indonesia. Thus, there is no reason for other ASEAN members to reject East Timor's presence in the grouping, provided that East Timor is willing to enter and abide by the regionally accepted code of conduct.

Viewed from such a perspective, it is necessary that Indonesia grant diplomatic recognition to East Timor. Megawati's acceptance of the invitation would be a first and major step toward such a recognition.

Indonesia should realize that with the emergence of an independent East Timor, blood and iron are no longer on the menu, having been replaced by the need to build fruitful bilateral relations.

The Jakarta Post April 26, 2002

Mega may go ahead with E. Timor visit

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Despite objections from legislators, President Megawati Soekarnoputri will likely go ahead with her plan to attend the proclamation of independence of the Indonesian former province of East Timor on May 20.

"Should nothing major happen between now and May 20, President Megawati will continue with the plan to go to East Timor," Coordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said on Thursday.

Susilo made the statements after attending a ceremony at Merdeka Palace for the installation of Vice Adm. Bernard Kent Sondakh as the new Navy Chief of Staff and Vice Marshall Chappy Hakim as the new Air Force Chief of Staff.

Megawati's plan to attend the proclamation of independence of East Timor has sparked debate as many legislators at the House of Representatives and People's Consultative Assembly advised her against attending.

The rejection to the plan has been caused mainly by the dark history and hurt feelings of many Indonesians by the loss of the former province whose people voted for independence during the UN-sponsored ballot in August 1999.

The separation left a lot of unfinished problems, especially after the mass violence allegedly involving Indonesian Military (TNI) personnel after the vote, which led many TNI officials to be brought to court on charges of gross human rights abuses.

No less than House Speaker Akbar Tandjung and Assembly Speaker Amien Rais suggested that Megawati postponed her plan because of the many unresolved problems between Indonesia and East Timor.

Both Akbar and Amien warned the President of the wounds Indonesia had suffered due to East Timor's secession.

Amien said it would be premature for Megawati to insist on traveling to Dili, even though he later changed his mind and left it to the President to decide for herself whether to go to East Timor.

Ibrahim Ambong, chairman of House Commission I for foreign affairs, expressed regret on Thursday over the President's insistence on traveling to Dili.

He said his commission would seek an explanation from foreign minister Hassan Wirajuda because the legislators had recommended the President not to go there.

"We will seek an explanation behind her decision at a hearing with the foreign minister," Ambong told the press here on Thursday.

He reiterated the legislators' preference for the government to send a ministerial level official. "This doesn't necessarily mean that we don't recognize East Timor's independence," said Ambong of Golkar faction.

A similar objection was aired by the TNI/National Police faction. "Our stance is clear and final," Budi Harsono, chairman of TNI/Police faction, said as quoted by Antara.

Budi shared Ambong's remarks that the President should send a ministerial level official as a representative of the Indonesian government.

"We don't intend to discuss it again now as we had talked about it earlier," Budi said.

Sucipto, secretary-general of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan), said on Thursday that his party had no official stance on the President's plan.

"However, whatever decision is made by the President, we will accept it," he said.

Separately, Lukman Hakim Saifuddin, a member of the House Commission II on law and domestic affairs, hailed Megawati's plan to visit East Timor on ground that it would show the magnanimity of this nation.

"We have to show that we look to the future and fulfill the invitation of East Timor," said Lukman.

Susilo contended that the plan to leave for Dili was based on national interests in which for security reasons it would be better to have friendly relations with a close neighbor like East Timor.

"For the sake of security in our own country and in the region it would be better that we keep good relations with East Timor," Susilo remarked.

Susilo further said that maintaining good relations with East Timor would also keep the international community from undermining Indonesia, especially after the difficult separation with the former province.

"The visit will not be a threat to our dignity, ... but it will be an advantage for the future of our foreign policy," the retired four-star general reiterated.

"The presence of President Megawati will symbolize the stand point of Indonesian foreign policy that looks to the future for our national interests and stops looking at the past," Susilo added.

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