Mon, 02 Jun 2003

Indonesia mulls options against Swedish govt

Fabiola Desy Unidjaja, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Indonesia is considering options to downgrade ties with Sweden over the latter's refusal to take action against Aceh rebel leaders who have claimed Swedish citizenship amid pressure to severe diplomatic ties altogether.

The ministry of foreign affairs drafted the options in a meeting at the residence of foreign minister Hassan Wirayuda on Sunday, said ministry spokesman Marty Natalegawa.

"We have been identifying several diplomatic options regarding the (rejection) letter ... some of these options are complementary and some are alternatives," Marty told The Jakarta Post.

When asked whether the options included a possible downgrading of relations with Sweden, he answered, "It has been discussed among officials, but this will be decided at a Cabinet meeting as soon as possible."

On Saturday, Sweden officially rejected Indonesia's request to take actions the leaders of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) separatists Hasan Tiro, Malik Mahmood and Abdullah Zaini, who are Swedish nationals.

The request was made almost at the same time as Jakarta launched a military operation in Aceh on May 19 following the collapse of peace talks.

Indonesia also issued a "red notice" to Interpol to arrest the three Swedish GAM leaders. Last Friday, another "red notice" was issued against GAM leaders Zakariah Zaman in Thailand and Mohamad Noer bin Ibrahim in Malaysia.

In Sweden's letter of response, Foreign Minister Anna Lindh said her government refused to take action against the GAM leaders.

Lindh said, as quoted by Reuters, that while her government accepted Indonesia's "full territorial rights" over Aceh, no action would be taken against the GAM leaders.

"Of course it is very sensitive for us and a difficult situation," she said. "At the same time, we have Swedish laws which say that as long as you don't commit any crimes against Swedish law, the government can't interfere."

Amid a surge of nationalist sentiment here, the rejection stirred angry responses among politicians.

Legislators who have joined the bandwagon of patriotism since the onset of the Aceh war suggested the government sever bilateral ties with Sweden.

House Speaker Akbar Tandjung threw his support behind the move. "Should Sweden fail to pay attention to our request, then the government may take any action necessary, including cutting ties with that country," he was quoted as saying by Antara.

One of the strongest criticisms has come from People's Consultative Assembly Speaker Amien Rais, who demanded outright that Indonesia end its relationship with Sweden. "We have to show that our request is serious," he said on Sunday.

Wiryono Sastrohandoyo, a senior diplomat and Indonesia's chief negotiator during the peace talks with GAM, also questioned Sweden's stance: "I have an impression that their definition of a 'friendly country' is questionable.

"There are limits in protecting freedom of expression, otherwise they (Sweden) will become a haven for troublemakers," the diplomat told the Post.

If diplomatic ties with Sweden are severed, it would be the third time Jakarta has taken such a move against another country.

Indonesia's first president Sukarno, also the father of incumbent President Megawati Soekarnoputri, severed ties with Malaysia in 1963, while his successor Soeharto severed diplomatic ties with China in 1966.

Indonesia restored bilateral relations with Malaysia in 1967 and with China in 1990.