Fri, 03 Nov 2000

Gus Dur to make Australia visit later this month

JAKARTA (JP): President Abdurrahman Wahid said on Thursday that his visit to Australia would go ahead at the end of this month despite criticism from the House of Representatives.

"God willing, I will visit Australia at the end of this month to explain everything about our relationship," he told a group of provincial legislators during a meeting at the Bina Graha presidential office.

Despite Abdurrahman's claims, it remains questionable whether such a visit can be held by the end of the month as the president's official schedule shows that he already has prior engagements.

Meanwhile the start of the fasting month is set to begin on Nov. 26 or 27. Abdurrahman previously said that he will not make any overseas trips during the month long fasting period.

Ties between Jakarta and Canberra deteriorated sharply last year after Australia led an international peacekeeping force to East Timor following the UN-organized independence ballot.

Abdurrahman said he would raise several issues affecting bilateral links, including the independence movement in Irian Jaya.

"I have to go there to explain to the Australian parliament about our position regarding Papua," Abdurrahman said.

"We can't just be cooped up in here forever ... we need to go down there to explain things from our perspective," he added.

Several groups in Australia, including labor unions, have expressed their support for the independence movement in Irian Jaya, although the Australian government has repeatedly said it wants Indonesia to remain intact.

Legislators called on the President last month to delay his visit to Australia until after Australian Prime Minister John Howard had first made a trip to Jakarta.

Foreign Minister Alwi Shihab had ruled out, however, the possibility of a Howard visit saying that Australian leaders' visits to Indonesia had been "too frequent".

Abdurrahman once said that his visit to Australia would depend on an analysis as to "whether their attitude had changed or not".

"If there are no changes, we will do what has been suggested by the House," Abdurrahman said.

The President's planned visit to Australia has already been delayed several times due to strong opposition from the House and other political opponents.

The President has been sharply criticized for making too many overseas trips and putting global issues before mounting domestic problems.

The president is already due to leave the country on Saturday for at least six days to attend the Organization of Islamic Conferences summit in Qatar and the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Brunei.

He will then attend the Association of Southeast Asian Nations informal summit in Singapore between Nov. 23 and 25.

The foreign ministry also confirmed on Thursday that South Korean President Kim Dae-jung will be making a state visit to Jakarta from Nov. 27 till Nov. 29.

The South Korean leader is scheduled to meet with Abdurrahman and Vice President Megawati Soekarnoputri.

A Foreign Ministry statement said that Abdurrahman and Kim Dae-jung will witness the signing of an extradition treaty between the two countries.

The statement said that Kim Dae-jung's planned visit would be the first state visit made by a foreign head of state during Abdurrahman's 13 months in office.

The two leaders last met was in Seoul last month when Abdurrahman attended the third ASEM Summit (Asia-Europe Meeting). (byg)