Sat, 27 Sep 2003

Fabiola Desy Unidjaja, The Jakarta Post, Tripoli

Megawati arrives in Tripoli, meets Qaddafi

President Megawati Soekarnoputri arrived in Tripoli on Friday for a historic, two-day trip to Libya.

Shortly after her arrival, Megawati held a 15-minute tete-a- tete with Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi at his private tent, accompanied by their interpreters.

No immediate statements were made by either Megawati or Qaddafi, but the President said the meeting was held in the spirit of Asia-Africa solidarity.

Qaddafi is scheduled to host a dinner for Megawati and her entourage later in the day.

Megawati is the second international leader after Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Arnaz to visit Tripoli since the United Nations sanctions on Libya was lifted earlier this month.

The President is slated to fly home after the trip.

Megawati arrived Tripoli after a three-day visit to Tunis, where she also met with Indonesian community living in the northern African state.

Addressing the Indonesian community in Tunis on Friday, Megawati urged Papuans to support the division of the province, saying it is the most realistic measure to ensure equal development in the natural resource-rich but conflict-ridden territory.

The President said it would be impossible for just one governor and administration to oversee an area as vast as Papua.

"I will let the people decide what to do, but I strongly suggest that Papua be split into two or three provinces to ensure every area can be properly run," Megawati said.

She said she understood why some Papuans were opposed to the proposal, but urged them to consider the matter carefully for the sake of development.

"People can discuss it, but please consider the benefits (of dividing the province) and the costs of keeping the province as one huge area as it is," the President said.

The central government's decision to speed up the division of Papua into three provinces has sparked protests in several parts of the province.

At least five people were killed during days of clashes between those supporting and opposing the declaration of Central Irian Jaya province last month. The violence forced Jakarta to postpone the establishment of the new province, but it did not stop the planned creation of West Irian Jaya province.

Many people have voiced suspicion that the violence was sparked by considerations over natural resources.

During the meeting in Tunis, the President said the situation in Indonesia, both economically and politically, was improving. She said there was no reason to continue considering the country to be in a state of crisis.

"We have to stop saying that we are in crisis because it is no longer there," she remarked.

Megawati is on a two-day visit to Tunisia to enhance trade between the two countries, which have had diplomatic ties since Tunisia's independence in 1956.

On Thursday, Megawati held meetings with high-ranking officials to discuss possible trade cooperation in the future. It was the second visit of an Indonesian president to Tunisia. Founding president Sukarno, Megawati's father, visited the country in 1961.

During the dialog with the Indonesian community, the President also underlined that next year's legislative and presidential elections would proceed as schedules.

The legislative elections are slated for April 5, 2004, while the first round of the presidential election is scheduled for July 5, with the runoff on Sept. 20.

"We cannot afford to call off the elections because this would only disrupt our political life. So I urge all related national institutions to stick to the schedule for the elections and verify the political parties in accordance with the law," she said.

She said that ahead of the country's first direct elections, people should prepare themselves by scrutinizing the candidates and learning about their platforms.

The President also met with her Tunisian counterpart Zine el Abidine Ben Ali on Thursday, and during the talks the two voiced support for Palestinians and called for the "restoration of their legitimate rights".

Ben Ali also underlined "the importance of international solidarity and the intensification of efforts in the global battle against terrorism".

Both countries have recently been targets of attacks for which the al-Qaeda network has claimed responsibility.