Sat, 06 Mar 1999

Albright praises Indonesian reforms

JAKARTA (JP): Visiting U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright made full use of her stay here on Friday, meeting President B.J. Habibie for two hours lauding Indonesian reforms, before going on to meet with East Timorese leader Jose Alexandre "Xanana" Gusmao and a group of community and political leaders.

She finished her whirlwind two-day visit here Friday evening when she departed for London on a 7.30 p.m. special flight.

In the meeting with Habibie, Albright praised Indonesian reforms, saying she saw a democratic spirit "blooming" in the country as it nears its first post-Soeharto elections in June.

Albright also said she was impressed by Indonesia's improvements in the area of human rights but added Washington would like to see more progress.

"Generally ... there is obviously a huge improvement in the human rights situation in Indonesia and we consider continued work on human rights issues very important," she said.

But Albright saw a "new spirit of democracy blooming" in Indonesia and said she believed Habibie was committed to holding a free and fair election after his taking office when veteran president Soeharto stepped down amid mass unrest last May.

"The sense that I got from talking to the president is one that he is obviously devoted to having this happen, a free and fair and open election," Albright said.

Habibie had even inquired whether former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, who has led election monitoring teams in several countries, might come to observe the June 7 polls, Albright said.

Albright expressed hope the government and poll officials will do their best to prevent the elections and the electoral campaign from becoming violent or degenerating into vote-buying.

Some 48 political parties, including one which was once banned, were Thursday said to be eligible to take part in the polls, which will be the first since the end of Soeharto's 32- year iron-fisted rule that was marked by accusations of power abuses.

After meeting Xanana, Albright met with pro-integration East Timorese group leader Dominggo Soares. Later, she met with a number of political leaders and human rights activists in two separate round-table discussions at a Central Jakarta hotel.

Among the political leaders were Megawati Soekarnoputri, leader of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan), Amien Rais, leader of the National Mandate Party (PAN) and Abdurrahman Wahid, leader of the 30 million-strong Nahdlatul Ulama Muslim organization.

Albright also met with former defense minister Edi Sudradjat, who leads the Justice and Unity Party (PKP), Investment Minister Hamzah Haz, who is also the leader of the United Development Party (PPP), former political prisoner Sri Bintang Pamungkas, who now leads the Indonesian Union Democratic Party (PUDI), leader of the Crescent Star Party Yusril Ihza Mahendra, Deliar Noer of the Muslim Ummat Party, Nur Mahmudi Ismail, president of the Justice Party, Supeni of the Indonesian Nationalist Party and Golkar chairman Akbar Tandjung, who is also Minister/State Secretary.

Amien said after the meeting that Washington regards Jakarta's willingness to accept observers as an "important sign,"

"It was a very good and normal meeting and it was more of a case of her familiarizing herself with the human rights situation in the country," leading human rights campaigner Marzuki Darusman told The Jakarta Post by phone.

Noted lawyer Todung Mulya Lubis, Muslim scholar Nurcholish Madjid, senior journalist Goenawan Mohamad, women's rights activist Ita Fatia Nadia and sociologist Mely G. Tan were also present on Friday.

Marzuki, who is also chairman of the National Commission on Human Rights, said that "in a general sense, Albright wanted to know how the U.S. could assist in the dialog between the civil groups and the military in Indonesia".

He also said that he mentioned the ongoing trial of 11 Army Special Forces (Kopassus) soldiers charged with abducting a number of political activists in the last months of Soeharto's rule.

"We have great press freedom and there is more room now for political parties to operate, but in contrast with that we still have unresolved cases of human rights abuses including the abductions and the related ongoing trial of the Kopassus soldiers," Marzuki said.

Human rights activists have said the trial of the 11 Kopassus soldiers was a "farce", insisting that it is only a charade to protect senior military officers and Soeharto.

"What I argued was that there was still not uniform progression. There were only several areas of development," Marzuki said.

Albright arrived on Thursday prompting tight security measures as some roads closed, causing heavy traffic congestion in parts of the capital. (byg/prb)