Subject: AFR: Who controls Indonesia's Timor policy?
Date: Sat, 24 Apr 1999 10:44:00 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <>

Received from Joyo:

Australian Financial Review Saturday, April 24, 1999

Who controls Indonesia's Timor policy?

Fate rests on election

By Tim Dodd

When the Prime Minister, Mr John Howard, meets Indonesia's President Dr B.J. Habibie next week one big question will hang over the meeting. Is he talking to the person who really controls Indonesia"s Timor policy?

The Timor issue has highlighted how Dr Habibie has a propensity for dramatic decisions but a limited record of being able to follow through.

The President has been able to reverse decades of Indonesian intransigence on East Timor by tapping support from a growing band of influential moderate Muslims who believe the cost of holding on to the province is too great.

Not only is it estimated to drain up to $140 million a year from the very stretched government budget. But also the Indonesian presence in East Timor is straining its relations with foreign countries. It is under continual attack for permitting human rights abuses.

Leading this view is the President"s powerful foreign affairs adviser, Dr Dewi Fortuna Anwar, who has overshadowed Indonesia"s long-serving Foreign Minister, Mr Ali Alatas, in her influence on foreign policy.

She was the key influence behind President Habibie"s sudden decision in January to make independence an option. The "we are better off without it" view is backed by a rising group of Muslim modernists, who take a pragmatic view of East Timor. In Cabinet they are typified by Mr Adi Sasono, the Co-operatives Minister. Outside of the Government, the Muslim opposition figure and presidential candidate Mr Amien Rais, falls into this camp.

Mr Alatas is the key opponent in Cabinet to the Habibie policy of letting East Timor go. He is in the uncomfortable position of also being Indonesia"s negotiator at the New York peace talks. His nationalist stance is rooted in the Soeharto era, where the view prevailed that if East Timor goes then other restive provinces will follow.

Leading presidential candidate Mrs Megawati Soekarnoputri, although she led opposition to Soeharto before his fall, also sees danger for the united archipelago in letting even one province go.

Former army officers who spent most of their careers in East Timor also oppose allowing it to secede, and they carry influence. Their association is led by former armed forces commander and former vice-president Mr Try Sutrisno, who is trying to re-establish himself in the main political game in the June parliamentary elections.

Whatever President Habibie does at high level, the implementation of East Timor policy is in the hands of the army who are effectively the government of the province.

For President Habibie, East Timor policy is probably his only opportunity to make an enduring mark because his remaining days of power are numbered. The current Soeharto-era parliament, over which he has control, will be replaced by a democratically elected parliament in June and the final decision about independence for East Timor will be up to the new body.

If Mrs Megawati Soekarnoputri"s Indonesian Democracy Party in Struggle does well, it is possible it could link up with old-style nationalists in the new parliament and refuse East Timor its independence. President Habibie, who will hold his job until November, may be powerless on the issue.

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