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Wahid interview: Another berry off the same bush!

1 Nov 1999

From an interview with Abdurrahman Wahid and the magazine Expresso it is clear that it's business as before in Indonesia.

"Support for the militias will cease": Wahid

Expresso - October 23, 1999

Tony Jenkins -- Abdurrahman Wahid, better known in his own country as Gus Dur, spoke to the Expresso in the lobby of the Hotel Mandarin at the start of the Popular Consultative Assembly (MPR), the body that has just elected him President of Indonesia.

Expresso: If you were elected President, would you respect East Timor's independence?

Gus Dur: I have said on many occasions that we will respect the plebiscite and obey international law.

Expresso: Would you immediately establish diplomatic relations with Dili?

Gus Dur: We are going to establish diplomatic relations, but only at charge d'affaires level, because we have to maintain Indonesia's sovereignty and self-esteem.

Expresso: Why should treating Timor Loro Sae as an equal affect your sovereignty and self-esteem?

Gus Dur: I am sure you understand what I mean. East Timor was a very difficult and emotional problem for many Indonesians. It is better not to discuss certain matters.

Expresso: Are the military the problem? Will you be able to convince them to stop supporting the militias in West Timor, and to allow Timor Loro Sae to live in peace?

Gus Dur: Yes, the military are a problem. If necessary, we shall make changes in posts in the TNI (Armed Forces) in order to stop the support for the militias. But we have to be fair to the Armed Forces. Not all of what you in the international media say about the TNI is true. For example, you reported that the militias had killed Xanana Gusmao's father and brother, but now we know that it was not true. Much of what happened in East Timor was the result of a campaign by the integrationists, not by the military.

Many members of the TNI are respectable people. They consider themselves the cornerstone of the building of our country.

Expresso: It appears that the Army is training Timorese militias to embark on guerrilla warfare.

Gus Dur: I can assure you that I shall take that matter in hand. It will not happen. I shall undertake responsibility for that personally, and it is going to stop.

Expresso: But the Army has already shown that it is not prepared to give up its political power and the role it plays in Indonesian civil society.

Gus Dur: We have to maintain the "Double Function" of the Armed Forces for another five years, until the next elections. The "Double function" is related to the personal income levels of military personnel. First, we have to solve that problem. But they are not likely to take part in the next elections, in 2004.

Expresso: Do you think that the Army is going to accept your authority?

Gus Dur: The military accept me as President. I have already told the TNI that we ought to separate the Ministry of Defence from the Cabinet of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Minister must be a civilian.

Furthermore, we have to alternate all the branches of the Armed Forces - Army, Navy and Air Force -- so that no particular one is dominant. The Armed Forces are our adversary, not our enemy. We have to change their hearts.

Expresso: What do you think about the investigation into atrocities committed in East Timor? Do you accept the international commission, or will you be insisting on a national investigation process, like President Habibie?

Gus Dur: I do not like these national-level investigations. They cannot guarantee an impartial investigation. I do not believe that the national (human rights) commission will be able to carry out such a task. I am a member of that commission and I know that it will not implement justice. Only an international commission can do justice in this case.

Expresso: Was General Wiranto responsible for what happened in East Timor?

What would happen if the international commission were to formally accuse him of war crimes?

Gus Dur: No comment.

Expresso: Pressure from separatists exists in other parts of Indonesia, such as Aceh. How are you going to deal with the problem?

Gus Dur: I want to decentralise power -- a lot of power -- to the regions. I supported the holding of a referendum in Aceh. But we cannot use the world "federation". It is a word with negative connotations in Indonesia because of its association with the Dutch colonial past. They used the federation as a means of dividing and dominating the Indonesian people.

Expresso: Corruption is extremely destabilising. How will you deal with it?

Gus Dur: Suharto ought to be investigated and tried by a court. That would serve as an example. Once he is sentenced, we could then negotiate with him in order to recuperate the country's money. That way, we would not be so dependent on aid from the international community. It would also contribute to restoring our national pride.

Expresso: The most powerful political force in Indonesia is that of the students on the streets. Will you be able to control them?

Gus Dur: There is no student power. What we have are small groups of students, and the men who are behind them are all hooligans. That is why there are hooligans among them. I do not like violence. I am a follower of Mahatma Gandhi. I told the students that we can exert pressure without resorting to violence, and that we can move towards democracy without violence; that way, God will allow it.

From this interview it emerges that the new President of Indonesia:

** offers colonies no more than the "autonomy" that was overwhelmingly rejected in favour of independence on the one occasion when a captive nation voted on it in a referendum

** appoints a mass murderer to a high position in his governnment while refusing to comment on whether the guy is a criminal.

** won't establish diplomatic relations with East Timor because such would offend the sensitivities of murderers and of those who close ranks with murderers ("It is better not to discuss certain matters" -- the classic copout of criminals who retain the privilege of not having to account for themselves)

** despite tacitly acknowledging that the Timorese quisling militias are subject to control from Jakarta, again repeats the transparent lie that the Indo army isn't running them ("Much of what happened in East Timor was the result of a campaign by the integrationists, not by the military.")

** ducks the question of whether the armed forces will accept Presidential authority

** derides the Javanese students who came out on the streets for a democratic Indonesia with no military veto

He did agree to respect the result of the Timorese referendum (which is no more than Golkar had to do anyway) and to pursue Soeharto for hogging the lion's share of the loot.

The entire Jakarta shadow play is an exercise in damage control, designed to deflect the credulous and unlock IMF coffers while the same old gang escapes justice and retains its power and privileges, the captive nations remain captive, the Timorese hostages remain hostages, damages remain unpaid, and murder, arson, theft, rape and torture continue unchecked and unpunished where Interfet soldiers can't be present to put a (angrily resented) stop to them.

As before, in Australia there is a deep gulf between the advocates of re-establishing "constructive engagement" (code for complicity) and the advocates of maximum assistance to national resistance movements and no aid in any form to their colonial oppressors. [Why not a Radio Free Asia based in Australia and open to all groups struggling for democracy in their countries?? There's a precedent: Radio Free Europe.]

Every dollar of aid going to Indonesia releases a dollar for military salaries and arms purchases for the purpose of colonial oppression and keeping cheap labour cheap.

Dion Giles

Fremantle, Western Australia

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