Subject: Tempo by Ali Alatas: My Diplomatic Life [+JP Update: Timor Rights Hearing]

also: JP update: Alatas testifies at Timor human rights hearing

Tempo Magazine

No. 25/VII

Feb 20-26, 2007


Ali Alatas: Dedicated to Diplomacy

Introduction: He brought world respect to Indonesian diplomacy. Ali "Alex" Alatas, one of Indonesia's renowned diplomats, was the country's Foreign Minister for 12 years from 1987 to 1999. He played a key role in the settlement of the Cambodian conflict and in the signing of a peace agreement between the Philippine government and the Moro National Liberation Front. A one-time Chairman of the Non-Aligned Movement, Alatas broke into tears upon learning of the separation of East Timor from the Republic of Indonesia in 1999. Although he retired from the Foreign Affairs Department, the 74-year-old is still active with a variety of diplomatic assignments.

I WAS born in Jakarta on November 4, 1932, the third of six children in the family. My father Abdullah S. Alatas was a lecturer in Arab language and literature at the University of Indonesia. I never dreamt of being a diplomat. In high school, I dreamt of becoming a lawyer, so I read a lot of legal texts. I thought learning and mastering law would enable me to think systematically and dare to argue publicly in search of truth.

After graduating from high school, I studied law at the University of Indonesia. That was in 1950, the same year I was admitted to the Foreign Service Academy. Two years later, when no students of the academy were allowed to simultaneously study in another institution, I quit law school. I thought I could return to that school upon employment with the Foreign Office.

Aside from studying, I spent much of my time reading, a favorite pastime since I was a child. I enjoyed both light and serious reading. One day my father returned home bringing tons of books. I was elated at what my father brought.

That afternoon, coming home from work, father saw many people break into houses left by their Dutch occupants, fleeing the incoming Japanese troops. The mobs looted the houses but no one touched the books that spilled all over the streets as people ran off with their stolen goods. Father collected the books and took them home. Most of the books were written in Dutch. Fortunately, I knew a little about Dutch. Later I managed to master English, a little French and German.

First Assignment

My career with the Foreign Office began in 1954 at the international economic directorate. Two years later I got my first overseas assignment, with the Indonesian embassy in Bangkok, first as a second secretary and later as first secretary from 1956 to1960. During this period I had an unforgettable experience arranging the return of the romusha, Indonesians forced into labor by the Japanese in Thailand, back to Indonesia.

Most of the romusha came from Central and West Java. They were brought to Thailand at the young age of 18 to 20 years. The men were picked up indiscriminately from the streets or markets and sent off to build a railway in Burma. All contact with their families was cut off. When Japan lost the war, the romusha were abandoned.

When I arrived in Bangkok, the Indonesian romusha had been living in Thailand for more than a decade, mostly in hiding. Many were married to local women and had children. But they continued to harbor hopes of returning to their families back home in Indonesia.

We gave them a choice. Those who wanted to remain in Thailand would be assisted in getting the necessary documents and those who chose to return home would be provided with transportation by train from Bangkok to Singapore and onwards, by sea to Indonesia. A large number chose to return. Between 80 and 100 left in a single trip.

Post-G30S Tragedy

In 1960, I returned to Jakarta to be head of the information section at the Foreign Office, reporting to Ganis Harsono. When Pak Ganis was promoted to Deputy Foreign Minister, I was appointed to replace him as chief of the directorate of information, in which capacity I was also acting as spokesman of the Foreign Office. Subandrio was then the Foreign Minister.

Under the leadership of President Sukarno, Indonesian foreign policy gradually shifted to the left, though not completely going communist. A revolutionary situation was evolving which culminated in the September 30 Movement (G30S) in 1965, an event which brought about drastic changes in the entire political situation, including within the Foreign Office, due to the involvement of the Foreign Minister in the movement.

After the departure of Pak Bandrio in 1966, Adam Malik took over as the new Foreign Minister. Pak Adam asked me to be his secretary. He said, "Come on, Alex, help me, be my secretary." Of course, I could not refuse what was tantamount to an order. But after six years back in Jakarta, I managed to get myself released and go on another overseas assignment. In 1967 I left for Washington to head the political section at the Indonesian embassy there.

My job was a sensitive one. Indonesia had just gone through an event that shocked the world. We had to be clever in explaining what had just happened in Indonesia. Moreover, our country was then in urgent need of economic and financial aid.

We also needed to restore our relations with the United Nations. A few months before, Indonesia withdrew from the world body. With Pak Adam as Foreign Minister, Indonesia later rejoined the UN.

Under Pak Adam's Guidance

Upon completing my assignment in Washington, DC, Pak Adam recalled me back to Jakarta to finally be his secretary. I was placed in a very unique position. I was also supposed to act as an interpreter. Pak Adam refused to talk in English. Even during a Foreign Ministers' meeting he would choose to speak in Indonesian.

Pak Adam trusted me implicitly, so that he frequently cut short his explanation and told me, "Alex, you continue and answer the question." I refused and said "No, Pak, I can't do it. Bapak must say something first and then I would do what looks like interpreting it for you." But he insisted. "It's up to you, say anything you like." Very amusing.

In addition, I also acted as travel leader and paymaster for Pak Adam. He refused to keep cash. If he received pocket money, he always entrusted it to me. But when he wanted to buy something, I must have the money readily available.

Fifteen years as assistant to Pak Adam strengthened me in many ways. The Foreign Office then had to deal with a lot of serious foreign policy problems. Experience gained during this period proved very useful to me in carrying out the duties entrusted me in the future.

Chief Negotiator for Group of 77

After so many years being secretary to the Foreign Minister I began to look around for yet another foreign assignment. I talked it over with the Director-General for Political Affairs. In August 1975 I was appointed ambassador to Geneva. I left Jakarta for the new post in January 1976.

In Geneva I was involved in the North-South debates and negotiations. I even got the honor of being appointed chief negotiator and spokesman for the Group of 77 (developing nations) then negotiating for a Common Fund for Commodities.

During this posting, I learned to be a negotiator. Mobilizing the Group of 77 was a great challenge. Developing nations were a difficult lot to unite. Even when they did unite, we still had to think of dealing with the unyielding argumentations of the developed countries.

But the effort bore fruit. We succeed in having a Common Fund for Commodities, the only agreement then reached between North and South.

My arguments then were that the Common Fund for Commodities was in the common interest of everyone. It would ensure that prices be more stable and predictable. Buffer stocks were set up. When there is a shortage on the market, we have stocks to minimize price fluctuations.

Vice President's Secretary

In 1978, I was recalled home when Pak Adam was appointed Vice President. He asked me to again be his secretary. Actually, I wanted to refuse, but it was difficult for me to say so. So we compromised and struck a deal. Pak Adam said I could go back and forth between Jakarta and Geneva, since my duties as chief negotiator of the Group of 77 had yet to be completed. In the end I worked in two places until 1979.

Working with the Vice President gave me an opportunity to join tours to other parts of the country. Pak Adam set a principle. The President would be concerned with the 'big projects' while he himself would deal with the smaller ones. So we were then dealing with 'small projects,' like those concerned with transmigration, cooperatives, and so forth. I found it quite an experience to get to know my own country better.

For five years I worked as Pak Adam's secretary. I learned a lot abut the intricacies of governing so vast and varied a country. I got to know how complex Indonesia is and how difficult it is to bring prosperity to hundreds of millions of people of so many different backgrounds.

Becoming Foreign Minister

New York, March 1988. President Suharto called me on the phone from Jakarta. It was Saturday morning. I was playing golf and just finished nine holes. I was walking past the clubhouse when my wife accosted me. She said Pak Harto just called and asked me to call back. I was confused because it was 12pm in New York and almost midnight in Jakarta. My wife suggested that I call Pak Harto immediately. I took her suggestion and called him back. It turned out the President was still on the phone waiting. He said, "I want you to come home because I plan to give you a new assignment. But don't tell anybody. Say anything but don't say I called you home." And he continued, "Please meet me at Cendana on Saturday at 10am." The President also told me not to tell the Foreign Minister of my new assignment. He said he would tell it himself.

My duties as Indonesian Permanent Representative to the UN in New York were about to end. I told a staff member and the head of the finance section that I was leaving for Jakarta. I told them that if anyone called, including people from Jakarta, to say that I was leaving for the Bahamas.

So I left for Jakarta secretly. I was met at the airport by members of my family. Back home I could not restrain myself from telling the Foreign Minister of my return home. "I knew already you were here. I also heard that you're going to replace me," he said. Later, when I met Pak Harto, the President said he wanted me to become Foreign Minister.

Normalization of Indonesia-China Ties

Back in Jakarta I set out to begin my duties as Foreign Minister. Many outstanding problems were solved during my term in office, although initial steps had been taken to solve these problems before, including normalization of relations with China, improvements of relations with Australia, peaceful settlement of the conflicts in Cambodia and southern Philippines, Indonesia's appointment as head of the Non-Aligned Movement and the East Timor issue.

Relations with China were cut following the G30S event in 1965. My predecessors, Pak Adam and Mochtar Kusumaatmadja had tried, but failed to convince the President on normalizing ties with China. Even the United States had resumed diplomatic relations with Beijing. Why should Indonesia continue to carry a grudge against China? "It's not the time yet [for a resumption of relations]," said Pak Harto.

In 1988, Indonesia got its turn to host a meeting of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP). We couldn't "say no" to China's participation as member of the Commission. Incidentally, the Chinese delegation was to be headed by Deputy Foreign Minister Liu Shu Qing.

I reported to Pak Harto and suggested that I meet Liu Shu Qing and tell him about our requirements for normalization of relations. To my surprise, Pak Harto agreed. Until then the President had always opposed any talk of normalization.

Actually Pak Harto had softened since he gave his Annual Accountability Speech before the People's Consultative Assembly on March 1, 1988. I met the Chinese minister on the sidelines of the ESCAP meeting and he agreed to openly state that China would not interfere in Indonesia's internal affairs and not help the remaining communists in Indonesia, one of the requirements set by Indonesia for normalized relations.

Cambodian Conflict

Another problem bequeathed by Pak Mochtar to me was the Cambodian conflict which had since 1978 kept the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) busy. For nine consecutive years ASEAN had initiated a resolution at the UN General Assembly in support of the coalition of resistance led by Prince Norodom Sihanouk against Vietnam and the Hun Sen regime. Despite the adoption of the resolution, Vietnam never paid any attention to it.

In 1987, ASEAN foreign ministers appointed Indonesia as "interlocutor" in the search for a peaceful solution of the conflict through dialog and negotiation. On July 29, 1987 an agreement was reached between Foreign Minister Mochtar Kusumaatmadja and his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Co Thach on a two-phase informal meeting on Cambodia, first a meeting among the four parties in the conflict: Prince Norodom Sihanouk, Son Sann, Khieu Samphan and Hun Sen. The second phase was a meting between the four parties and Indonesia, ASEAN, Vietnam, and Laos.

When Pak Mochtar reported the agreement to an ASEAN Foreign Ministers Forum, there was strong opposition to its implementation. A breakthrough was finally reached at the first Jakarta Informal Meeting (JIM) held at the Bogor Palace in July 1988. The meeting agreed on the establishment of an independent, sovereign, peaceful and neutral Cambodia based on self-determination and national reconciliation.

The meeting also agreed on other aspects of the problem, including withdrawal of Vietnamese troops from Cambodia, prevention of a repeat of the genocide, and a guarantee on cessation of foreign intervention and arm supplies.

A meeting of permanent members of the UN Security Council which was followed by the first Paris Conference failed to find a breakthrough. The peace process was continued in Jakarta. Later the UN Security Council agreed on a document for a comprehensive political solution to the Cambodian problem.

On October 23, 1991, an agreement was reached on the formation of a UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) and an arrangement for a ceasefire, withdrawal of Vietnam troops and general elections.

The Southern Philippines Conflict

For a quarter of a century, Muslims in the southern Philippines had fought under the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) for an independent Mindanao. Eventually, the MNLF dropped their demand for independence in return for broader autonomy.

In March 1971 a Ministerial Level Conference was organized by the Organization of Islamic Conference in Benghazi, Libya to discuss the southern Philippines problem. The meeting agreed on the formation of a Quadripartite Committee tasked with seeking a peaceful settlement to the conflict.

Indonesian involvement in the peace process began at the Ministerial Level Conference in April 1993. At the request of the parties in dispute, Indonesia hosted an Informal Exploratory Meeting at Cipanas in West Java. A formal conference was held in Jakarta on October 25-November 7, 1993.

It was a long road to peace. After three years of meeting after meeting, a final peace agreement was announced in a ceremony at the State Palace in Jakarta on August 30, 1993. The agreement was formally signed at Malacanang Palace in Manila on September 2, 1993.

The peace process which practically hinged on the skill of Indonesian diplomats provided a valuable training ground and experience for our Foreign Office staff later in dealing with the East Timor problem.

Separation of East Timor

The East Timor problem was one of the most challenging issues in the history of Indonesian diplomacy, although, like it or not, the form and mode of its solution was not in accordance with our hopes and aims.

I want to set things straight and correct a public misconception over a compromise solution that seemed to suddenly appear during the period of the Habibie administration and under western pressure. Let me say again that since 1983, that is since the tripartite dialog with Portugal held under the auspices of the UN Secretary-General began, Indonesian diplomacy had already been tasked with finding a comprehensive and just solution acceptable to the international community.

In 1986-1987 and 1991, Indonesia accepted the idea of a compromise solution offered by UN Secretary-General Perez de Quellar. Portugal rejected it.

Later Indonesia offered a special status with broad autonomy to East Timor as part of a final settlement and a "middle way" between pro-independence and pro-integration groups. Some people thought the idea appeared only during the Habibie administration.

Actually the idea was first broached by the Foreign Office in 1994, but President Suharto didn't approve of it. The idea was brought up again when Burhanuddin Habibie was President and accepted at a plenary cabinet meeting. In August 1998 the idea was formally submitted to a tripartite ministerial level meeting in New York. Although it was not accepted as a form of final settlement by Portugal, the parties agreed to start negotiation on the details of special autonomy offered by Indonesia.

From the beginning the idea was criticized and questioned by pro-independence groups, non-governmental organizations, and governments of certain western countries. It was under this situation that Habibie reacted with an offer of a 'second option' in January 1999. As a result, there were two options: accept special autonomy or reject it with the consequence of East Timor separating from the Republic of Indonesia. Both options became the main theme of subsequent negotiations. The second option was agreed upon at a political and security coordination meeting and a plenary cabinet meeting and became official government policy.

In my opinion and also that of the Foreign Office, the second option had been offered prematurely. And if the special autonomy proposed as the final solution was rejected, there were still other alternative way-outs, for instance, putting into effect the special autonomy as an "intermediate arrangement" for a period of 5-10 years, while continuing to leave the possibility of referendum open to the people of East Timor.

But what's done cannot be undone. As we all see it the referendum in East Timor-now called the Republic of Timor Loro Sa'e-ended in a rejection [of the second option]. Today, East Timor is an independent state.

No Retirement

I retired from the Foreign Office when Abdurrahman Wahid was President. My successor was Pak Alwi Shihab. But it didn't mean I could settle back and relax. There's still a lot of things to do. The government still wanted me to stay on as advisor to the Foreign Minister. I'm now also foreign policy advisor to the President and a special envoy of both Presidents Megawati Sukarnoputri and Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Indeed, I have spent much time on my activities, pleasant and challenging. A friend joked that I'm now busier than when I was Foreign Minister. He asked when I would really retire. I don't know. I will continue to serve until I can no longer serve.


The Jakarta Post

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Alatas testifies at Timor human rights hearing

Rita A. Widiadana and Abdul Khalik, The Jakarta Post, Sanur

photo: Opening Testimony: Former Indonesian foreign minister Ali Alatas testifies Monday before the Commission of Truth and Friendship in Denpasar, Bali, about the violence surrounding East Timor's breakaway from Indonesia in 1999. (JP/Lukman S. Bintoro)

Former foreign minister Ali Alatas became the first Indonesian former official Monday to testify before the Commission of Truth and Friendship (CTF) established by Indonesia and Timor Leste.

His appearance launched the public hearings on human rights violations following the 1999 referendum that led to Timor Leste's independence from Indonesia.

Alatas gave his testimony after being sworn in. Some 100 people listened attentively at the Sanur Paradise Hotel.

Violence related to the referendum caused at least 1,500 deaths, according to a UN report. Alatas said neither the government nor the international community was able to anticipate such a reaction to the referendum.

"My worst fear occurred. We (the Indonesian government) as well as the United Nations bodies had never thought that it could cause such huge destruction," Alatas said. .

"The situation there was really out of control and Gen. Wiranto (then Defense Minister), finally agreed to allow foreign troops to enter East Timor to maintain security and order after he visited the sites with UN representatives," Alatas said.

The retired general is scheduled to testify in April or May.

The commission began hearing testimony after inspecting documents, amid controversy over whether the focus would be on punishing the perpetrators or on "friendship" and amnesty.

A Timorese in the audience, 19-year-old Belinha Alves, said after experiencing the bloody struggle for independence, all she wanted to see now was peace and good relations with the former ruler.

"For me, what matters most is a peaceful future. But we need to know the truth about our past. I believe this commission will provide us with this. We will accept its report and move on to a new beginning with Indonesia."

"I have many relatives in Indonesia so I can't see why we can't have good relations as a neighbor," Belinha said.

The Commission, established in 2005, comprises five representatives from each country. It has a mandate until August 2007. Modeled on similar bodies set up in South Africa, Chile and Argentina, it has no powers to prosecute human rights violators. However, it can give recommendations to both governments to grant amnesty to people who have confessed to involvement and expressed remorse, and to compensate victims.

The CTF co-chairman from Timor Leste, Dionisio Babo Soares, said most victims had agreed that reconciliation should not necessarily be achieved through international trials but that they expected the CTF to become part of the solution by uncovering the truth.

"This is the most realistic solution considering Timor Leste's condition and its political and economic relations with Indonesia," Soares said.

Survivors who shared their testimonies on Monday were Emilio Bareto, who was in the "pro-independence" camp, and Mateus Carvalho, a former "pro-integration" militia member.

Sessions will continue on Tuesday to hear Indonesian Ambassador to Portugal Francisco Xavier Lopes da Cruz, Eko Budiharjo of the Rector Forum, and two more survivors.


Terjemahan (atas jasa "Kataku"): 

------------------------------------------ Joyo Indonesia News Service 

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