Fri, 11 Apr 2003

RI still recognizes Saddam as `legitimate leader'

Fabiola Desy Unidjaja, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The Indonesian government took a cautious stance in the wake of the fall of Baghdad to the coalition forces, saying Jakarta was waiting for further information in Iraq before it took a clear position.

Minister of foreign Affairs Hassan Wirayuda said on Thursday that Indonesia would continue to recognize Saddam Hussein as the legitimate president of Iraq until there was a clearer status in that country.

"Up to this minute yes, until we confirm the real situation in that country... We are seeking a further clarification whether Saddam's regime has already collapsed or not, and (we're) waiting for the formation of an interim government," Hassan said after Cabinet meeting on Thursday evening.

He further emphasized that it was too early to judge the true situation in Iraq, and to perceive the real aspirations of the Iraqi people concerning the ongoing developments.

Indonesia was among a host of countries that staunchly opposed U.S.-led intervention in Iraq, and considered it aggression.

The scenes of the recent fall of Baghdad and of the jubilant Iraqi people, broadcast live all over the world, has prompted Indonesia to review its stance on Iraq and Saddam's regime.

Hassan said that the government needs more evidence, in addition to just the fall of Baghdad, that Saddam no longer rules Iraq.

"Before deciding on a political stance, we also have to take into account whether the whole process of repairing the infrastructure damaged during the war, as well as the establishment of an interim government there, will be coordinated by the United Nations (UN) or not and whether or not it wins the full support from the Iraqi people," the minister said.

Indonesia has been of one voice against the war and urged the UN to play an active role in maintaining world order.

As the war comes nearer to an end, the Iraqi people have expressed great support for the U.S. and coalition forces and called them freedom fighters.

The Iraqi people's jubilation has seemingly helped to justify the war and could likely mean a greater role for the U.S. and its allies in reconstructing Iraq and forming a new administration to replace Saddam's regime.

U.S. President George W. Bush who was heartened by Baghdad's fall, once said that the UN would play an important role in post- war Iraq, especially to handle the war's negative impacts on the country and its people.

"What we would like to see is the U.S. keep its word and not stay there to occupy the country," Hassan remarked.

The minister reiterated the call for the UN to take a leading role in the reconstruction program and the planned formation of the new government in Iraq.

"The attack ignored the UN and it should not happen again in the next two major phases in post-war Iraq," Hassan stressed.

He said further that Indonesia would not absolutely recognize the interim government in post-war Iraq, unless certain conditions prevailed.

"We usually accept the sovereignty of a country, but this will not always happen with any new government, as was the case in post-war Afghanistan," the minister said, referring to Indonesia's current lack of recognition of Afghanistan's Hamid Karzai.

"There are always certain areas or fields on which we have to remain neutral. For example, the protection of the people. We have to pay more attention to the protection of the Iraqi people regardless of that country's political situation," he said.

Hassan also appreciated the people's strong opposition to the war and the moral movement by religious communities to launch the anti-war campaign before and during the attack on Iraq.

"All these are a good precedence for the nation to form a consultation forum between the government and the people in responding to all things concerning Indonesia and its friendly countries in the future," he said.

But unlike the people and religious communities, the government fell short of condemning the attack on Iraq. It "strongly deplored" the war and called for the UN to hold a general assembly to pressure the coalition forces to halt the war.