Tue, 11 Mar 2003

Mega meets Habibie for first time since taking office

Fabiola Desy Unidjaja, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

President Megawati Soekarnoputri held a warm and friendly meeting with former president B.J. Habibie on Monday, the first time the pair have met since she became president in July 2001.

Habibie is the only former president that has received a warm welcome from Megawati as she has a sour relationship with former president Abdurrahman Wahid and it would be too controversial to meet former president Soeharto.

"This is just a friendly meeting between two families; I was just telling the President about my wife's health condition," Habibie claimed after the meeting.

Habibie was handpicked by Soeharto to replace him in 1998 amid nationwide riots by protesters demanding the dictator resign after ruling the country for 32 years.

In 1999, Habibie withdrew his presidential bid after his accountability speech was rejected by members of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR).

Habibie is in Jakarta to host a meeting of the Forum Interaction Council (FIC), an international organization whose members consist of former heads of state from around the globe.

The three-day meeting will start on Tuesday at The Habibie Center. Former Australian prime minister Malcolm Fraser and former Dutch prime minister Andreas Van Agt are slated to attend.

Habibie is the only member of the forum from Indonesia. The meeting will discuss possible clashes of cultures resulting from the global war against terrorism.

He is currently residing in Germany where his wife, Ainun Habibie, is undergoing medical treatment.

"I told the President that hopefully I could get back here gradually as my wife's health condition is getting better, maybe by the end of this year I can return to Jakarta," he said.

Meanwhile Doddy Yudhista, spokesman for the private think tank the Habibie Center, was quoted by the Detikcom as saying Habibie would testify at a human rights court hearing cases of atrocities in East Timor in 1999.

As president, Habibie authorized the United Nations to hold a self-determination ballot in East Timor.

Monday's meeting lasted for 90 minutes, 30 minutes longer than scheduled, forcing Megawati to arrive late for her next appointment at the State Palace.

However, Megawati, who escorted Habibie and his wife to the front door of her residence, seemed to enjoy the meeting and smiled a lot to reporters.

Habibie, before entering Megawati's residence, greeted reporters standing by to cover the meeting. "I miss them (reporters) as I haven't met them for a while," he said.

One of his aides, who declined to be named, said that Habibie had also requested a meeting with Soeharto, but they had had no response.