Mon, 23 Oct 2000

Indonesia arrests U.S. 'infiltrator' in Irian Jaya

YOGYAKARTA (JP): Minister of Defense Mohammad Mahfud M.D. claimed on Sunday that security officers had recently apprehended in Irian Jaya an "infiltrator" of United States citizenship whom he believes could have been involved in espionage in Indonesia's easternmost province.

"The U.S. citizen, Aaron Ward Maness, was arrested on Oct. 21, but he was taken by the U.S. ambassador to Jakarta (Robert Gellbard) when he was about to be deported at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport," Mahfud remarked without elaborating on how the U.S. ambassador was able to "take" someone who was about to be deported by immigration officials.

It is unclear whether the U.S. citizen was apprehended in Jakarta or Irian Jaya.

Mahfud would not elaborate further on the deportation debacle, saying the issue does not involve the Ministry of Defense.

"That's the immigration and police's business," he asserted.

"But based on the information that I obtained, the man (Maness) was not deported as he was immediately taken by Ambassador Gelbard".

According to officials, Gelbard, when he picked up the alleged "infiltrator", denied that Maness was a spy, saying the man was a U.S. air force pensioner.

However, Mahfud admitted that authorities have to yet find concrete legal evidence against Maness' alleged spying activities.

Nevertheless Maness deserved to be suspected for trying to push for Irian Jaya's independence, Mahfud argued, saying such an assumption could be judged from his belongings.

"I have data showing that Maness met with leaders of the Papua taskforce just a day before the bloody riots in Wamena," Mahfud said in a discussion with reporters here.

The riots erupted when proindependence supporters ran amok after clashing with police for forcibly lowering the Morning Star separatist flags.

An overwhelming majority of those who died were migrant settlers.

Mahfud claimed that among Maness's activities were taking pictures of riot victims from the indigenous population only and circulating the pictures abroad with a note saying the dead were victims of brutality of the Indonesian Military (TNI).

"Maness did not take pictures of the other victims. He was on a tourist visa but he was working as a journalist," Mahfud remarked.

Mahfud believes that Maness' ultimate objective was to prompt a United Nations' intervention.

"If he had succeeded, it would have been as what happened in East Timor," he added.

The arrest of Maness, Mahfud said, was also a glaring example of the weaknesses of Indonesia's own intelligence bodies.

"I got the information from the police intelligence, not from formal (military) intelligence bodies," he remarked.

Mahfud earlier this week indicated that a new intelligence body would likely be set up under his ministry amid public concerns over the weakness of the existing intelligence bodies.

He said the planned intelligence body would directly give daily information to the President.


Mahfud also remarked that Indonesia needs to consider the establishment of a defense pact to balance the U.S. presence in the region and avoid more foreign pressure, including weapons embargoes.

"If Indonesia, India, China and Japan unite to set up a joint defense pact, the U.S. would be limp. The U.S. can be arrogant but I'm now considering cooperation with other countries," he remarked.

Asked whether he has informed President Abdurrahman Wahid about his plans, Mahfud replied: "The President is an easygoing person. He just said go head."

However, he asked that the plan not be perceived as an effort to fight against the U.S.

"As a sovereign country, Indonesia should find other alternatives. We don't want to be continuously pressured by the U.S," he remarked.

Mahfud's remarks on a possible pact however may catch a few people by surprise as such a policy runs against core values of the Indonesian foreign policy.

Indonesia is currently not bound by any military pact and had always rejected the idea of entering into one in the past. (23/jun)