Fri, 01 Dec 2000

President talks tough on separatists

JAKARTA (JP): President Abdurrahman Wahid warned here on Thursday that any attempt to break away from the republic would be dealt with "accordingly".

"Paying close attention to developments in several regions in Indonesia, I would like to convey that (people) should not attempt to proclaim independence from the unitary state of the Republic of Indonesia as what has been planned in Irian Jaya or Aceh," Abdurrahman said in a nationally televised address.

"Any attempt toward this direction will be dealt with accordingly by the state administration," he added.

"Steps will be taken according to the mandate of the People's Consultative Assembly, the Constitution and the law."

In a separate statement made available to the media by the presidential secretary's office on Thursday evening, Abdurrahman also called on people "to remain calm and maintain security and order and not be provoked by misleading agitation".

The President's statement came on the eve of a planned unilateral declaration of independence by proindependence activists in the easternmost province of Irian Jaya.

Earlier in the day, a top security minister said Jakarta would take stern measures against any unilateral action to declare independence in the volatile provinces of Aceh and Irian Jaya.

Speaking to reporters after a three-hour Cabinet meeting presided over by Vice President Megawati Soekarnoputri, Coordinating Minister for Political, Social and Security Affairs Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said the government would be doing its utmost to prevent any provinces from breaking away from the republic.

"We will stop any attempts to secede from the Republic of Indonesia, including those in Aceh and Irian Jaya," Susilo said at Bina Graha presidential office.

When asked whether military action would be taken in Irian Jaya, Susilo said "the military will only be there to back up the local police".

"We hope that there will be no deployment of military force in those critical regions," Susilo said, adding that solutions to rising separatist sentiments in Irian Jaya and Aceh would still be sought through political negotiations.

He said that as of Thursday afternoon, security personnel in Irian Jaya continued to take steps "to maintain a stable and calm situation".

"It is true that there has been some tension, but police and local security personnel will be doing their best to prevent any conflict from taking place," Susilo said.

Earlier in the day, Minister of Defense Mahfud MD said "strict measures" would be taken if proindependence supporters in Irian Jaya insisted on declaring independence on Friday.

He was quick to add, however, that those measures would only include "normal security steps" and he ruled out the possibility of deploying military operations in the province.

In a departure from usual practice, no news briefing was given following the Cabinet meeting on Thursday.

A presidential spokesman, Dharmawan Ronodipuro, told The Jakarta Post that "the Cabinet did not feel it is necessary to have a news briefing today".

"We need to remember that a Cabinet meeting does not necessarily finalize the topic or subject that is being discussed," Dharmawan said.

Abdurrahman did not attend the entire session on Thursday, saying that he had not fully recovered from the flu.

"I still have the flu and I have been advised by my doctors to not stay at this Cabinet meeting for too long, otherwise I will infect other Cabinet members," he said.

Another presidential spokesman, Wimar Witoelar, said last week that Abdurrahman had been suffering from influenza since mid- November.

Separately, the secretary-general of the National Commission on Human Rights, Asmara Nababan, said the government should not take any repressive measures against Irianese who want to express their stance.

"The government doesn't have to point guns at them. Let them express their stance even though it happens to be different from the government's. Unless they turn violent, the police should not curb their actions.

"The government should hold a dialog to resolve the problems in the region," Asmara told The Jakarta Post by phone on Thursday evening.

"The government has taken repressive measures against them for the last 30 years and that has resulted in nothing. Why should we do the same thing now? Haven't we learned anything?" he said. (byg/bby)