Mon, 23 Sep 2002

Govt asked to treat foreign NGOs fairly

Moch. N. Kurniawan, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Calls have surfaced for the government not to be unreasonable in its treatment of foreign non-governmental organizations following allegations that they may have abused their humanitarian mission in conflict-ridden areas.

"The most important thing is to make sure that the foreign NGOs carry out their mission here in a fair and transparent manner," Executive Director of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) Longgena Ginting said on Sunday.

He was referring to the detention of two foreign women -- 42- year-old Scottish researcher Lesley McCulloch and 57-year-old American volunteer Joy Lee Sadler -- in rebellious Aceh.

According to Ginting, the move against the two foreigners in Aceh had only raised eyebrows as it was apparently aimed at preventing them from revealing alleged human rights violations in the restive province.

He regretted the government had implemented complex procedures for NGO activists wishing to carry out missions in the country, forcing them to wait for months to obtain visas.

The practice, he said, might cause foreign NGO activists to enter the country on tourist visas.

Official at the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights Anak Agung Oka Mahendra said the government had never intended to restrict the entry of foreign NGO activists to Indonesia.

"Basically we want to make this country easily accessible and safe for every foreign visitor," Oka, an expert adviser to the minister, told The Jakarta Post on Sunday.

Based on Immigration Law No. 9/1992 and the international relations consensus, the government should allow humanitarian activities to be carried out by foreign citizens, he said.

As long as foreign NGO activists could show a clear humanitarian agenda, had local sponsors and obtained final approval from the local government concerned, the central government would issue them a visa, he added.

"A failure to meet these requirements will prompt the government, via the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to refuse foreign NGO activists entry to Indonesia," he said.

Oka also warned foreign NGO activists against misusing their visas for unauthorized activities, otherwise the government would deport or sue them should they commit an offense.

"Please respect the country's rules and sovereignty," he said.

The two women were arrested on charges of involvement in separatist activities in Aceh while on tourist visas, thus violating immigration law.

They will likely stand trial in Aceh.

They face a maximum sentence of five years' imprisonment if found guilty of violating Immigration Law chapter 50, according to Aceh Provincial Police chief Insp. Gen. Yusuf Manggabarani.

It has also been reported that an NGO in Australia has covertly been assisting the proindependence movement in Papua.

Rebels in Papua, Aceh and Maluku intensified their efforts to secede from Indonesia after the country was seriously hit by the economic crisis in 1997.