Sat, 04 Nov 2000

Gus Dur's Australia visit useless for Indonesia: Legislators

JAKARTA (JP): Legislators on Friday strongly reacted to President Abdurrahman Wahid's intention to visit Australia this month, saying the Indonesian leader should delay the visit which was not urgent and likely be unproductive.

"The President should listen to the House's official call on him to delay the visit because according to the legislative body, it is not urgent and unfruitful," House Speaker Akbar Tandjung said here on Friday.

He said the House has delivered an official letter from the Commission I on foreign affairs, security and defense to the President, asking the President to wait for a more conducive climate before embarking on the visit.

The President in a meeting with the Association of Regional Legislatures on Thursday revealed his plan to visit Australia by the end of this month for talks that would include the sensitive issue of Irian Jaya province.

Australian-Indonesian diplomatic ties have nose-dived since Australia led a multinational force to East Timor following the post-ballot rampage in the territory last year.

The calls to delay the trip were reinforced by Yasril Ananta Baharudin, chairman of the House's Commission I which oversees foreign affairs, who said Indonesia had nothing to gain from it and that it would only benefit Australia.

"It is better for the President to delay his visit to that country because we feel there's no urgency," Yarsil said pointing out that Abdurrahman would be going there not in his personal capacity but in his position as head of state.

He said his commission had sent an official letter to the President calling on him to delay the visit.

"Australia has frequently taken actions humiliating Indonesia as an independent nation. It is better if that country's leader comes here first," he asserted.

But separately foreign minister Alwi Shihab asserted that despite the House's call, the President would go ahead with his plan to visit Australia because the visit was aimed at long-term goals for the sake of bilateral ties.

"Gus Dur's planned Australian visit has been delayed several times. We should make a separation between the long-term vision and short-term objectives," he told journalists at his office on Friday.

Alwi and several other Indonesian ministers are due to hold talks with their counterparts on Nov. 25 and Nov. 26 to pave the way for the presidential visit.

However the likelihood of such a visit taking place in the next few weeks remains questionable as the President already has a full schedule this month which includes two overseas trips and hosting a state visit by South Korean President Kim Dae-Jung.

The most available time would be sometime during the fasting month which starts either Nov. 26 or Nov. 27.

But this would mean the President having to go back on his word not to travel during the fasting month. (rms/45)