The World Today Archive – Wednesday, 19 January , 2000 00:00:00
Reporter: Mark Bowling
COMPERE: Whilst this crisis is obviously becoming more of a threat to Indonesia’s national tourist income as the days go by, the plight of local communities is more and more being regarded as highly engineered, as we’ve been hearing. The influential Jakarta Post has published a story linking former president Suharto and the former armed services chief General Wiranto to the stirring up of sectarian violence on Lombok and in other places. For the fourth day in a row, senior figures in the Clinton administration in Washington have been issuing warnings that the United States will support the new President Wahid and his path to democratic reform no matter what happens.

Our Indonesia correspondent Mark Bowling joins us in Jakarta.

Mark, it’s significant that Madeleine Albright, Secretary of State, has again come out and put the Clinton administration view that Wahid needs to be supported at the moment.

MARK BOWLING: Well, certainly John. It seems like all of this is something of a pre-emptive strike, if you like, to make sure that the military doesn’t make any moves. We heard Richard Holbrook coming out first and saying on the weekend that the US would frown upon any thought of a military coup, and making it clearly – stating it clearly that the US administration supports President Wahid and his new democratic government.

The fact of the matter is that as more of these outbreaks of violence happen right across the archipelago, President Wahid has to rely more and more on the military to try and contain them. So it certainly suggests that one tactic that elements within the military could be using to try and secure their power base to hang on to their political role in the country is to stir up trouble. This has been the pattern for the last year. And it’s significant that today is exactly one year since the first violence started in the Maluku province, capital Ambon. And since then of course we’ve seen 15 000 people – Christians and Muslims – killed in fighting in Maluku province alone.

COMPERE: Now, the group that is trying to promote reconciliation in Maluku has been quoted by the Jakarta Post as saying that there is evidence that the armed forces have been stirring up trouble – or at least some of the elements in the armed forces, like Wiranto.

MARK BOWLING: Well, it’s interesting hearing the eye-witness accounts, especially of truck-loads of youths arriving and setting fire to buildings, because that is a consistent pattern. We’ve heard eye-witness accounts in Maluku province, in Ambon, on Halmahera – on islands right across eastern Indonesia. That is exactly how these situations are carried out on the ground. And certainly the finger has been pointed many, many times by various human rights groups at General Wiranto and to other military leaders, intelligence officers. It certainly seems that there is a thread of truth running through all of this that there are rogue elements in the military – perhaps it goes to an even higher level than that – organising this. And of course the finger has also been pointed at president Suharto – former president Suharto – that he still has a very – the unseen hand, if you like, behind what’s going on; he continues to play a strong political role.

COMPERE: ‘Once a warrior, always a warrior’ some would observe.

What though is Wahid going to do about this? He has to walk a very delicate line here, does he not?

MARK BOWLING: Well, he’s overcome by problems in Indonesia at the moment. Of course he has to try and sort out separatist problems in Aceh and Irian Jaya. He’s committed to solving the problems in Ambon. And Lombok on top of this is just the – just the latest thing. And of course, as you mentioned, the fact that a tourist island like Lombok is involved makes it even more important if they’re going to try and keep the tourist industry afloat. Tourism is so important to Indonesia. And the country is in such economic turmoil still, that if this is to spill out into other popular islands, then it is going to absolutely decimate the economy. So he knows that he has to act quickly.

As far as the situation in Ambon goes, he has put Vice-President Megawati Sukarnoputri in charge of trying to halt that dispute. But so far there has been no movement whatsoever on that front. Both leaders have said they will leave it to the community leaders in the islands to try and solve the problem themselves. More that they can do than that is only send in the military. And we note that today there are now orders to shoot on sight anyone causing trouble in the Maluku. So it’s – the tactic is to simply clamp down.

COMPERE: Very testing times in our largest neighbour.

Thank you very much Mark Bowling bringing us up to date from Jakarta


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