Mon, 10 Apr 2000

Accommodation sought in North-South ties: Gus Dur

By Budiman Moerdijat

PRETORIA, South Africa (JP): Visiting President Abdurrahman Wahid said here on Sunday that accommodation is better than confrontation in North-South relations.

"We agree that we should have a stronger position vis a vis the other side, but I think accommodation is better than confrontation," Abdurrahman told a media briefing after a 60- minute meeting with his counterpart, Thabo Mbeki, at the Presidential Guest House.

Abdurrahman's statement comes as the two presidents are to participate in the first ever Summit of the Group of 77 (G-77) in Havana, Cuba, from April 10 through April 14.

Abdurrahman, who is popularly known as Gus Dur, is on a nine- day four-nation tour which will also take him to Mexico and Hong Kong. He is scheduled to leave for Mexico early on Monday.

Formed in 1964 and boasting 133 member countries, G-77 seeks to promote the development and economic cooperation of countries in the southern hemisphere.

Fifty-six nonmember states, including the United States and several other industrialized countries, have been invited to the summit, which will focus on economic globalization, new technologies, North-South relations and southern hemisphere cooperation.

"We will work together in order to achieve conditions that are better for us in international trade," Abdurrahman said without elaborating.

Commenting on his meeting with Mbeki, Abdurrahman said that "the talk was very frank and cordial".

"There is no bilateral problem, except the need to further increase our relationship. That is why I propose the elimination of visa requirements for South Africans who want to visit Indonesia, as well as direct flights between Jakarta and South Africa," Abdurrahman said.

He added that he had proposed that both leaders "should exchange visits each year" to strengthen cooperation.

Mbeki, who was also present at the news conference, said "bilateral relations" between the two countries "will continue to develop".

"I must say that we have been very pleased with the progress that has been made in Indonesia with regard to the process of the election and the composition of the government ... and indeed we will continue to follow as closely as we can the developments in Indonesia," Mbeki said.

Mbeki also said that his government was ready to assist Jakarta in establishing a truth and reconciliation commission to address past human rights abuses.

"(Former president) Nelson Mandela agreed in the past to give assistance to that process, so once the commission has been constituted, we will be ready if there is anything that we can contribute," Mbeki said. (byg)