Mon, 27 Aug 2001

Top aides join Mega in Singapore

SINGAPORE (JP): Three top Cabinet ministers flew in on Sunday to join President Megawati Soekarnoputri here, underpinning the importance she attaches to Indonesia's relations with Singapore.

All three coordinating ministers, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (politics and security), Dorodjatun Kuntjoro-Jakti (economy) and Jusuf Kalla (people's welfare) joined the presidential delegation to take part in various talks with their Singaporean counterparts.

State Minister of State Enterprises Laksamana Sukardi, widely regarded as her chief economics adviser, also joined the delegation on Sunday, further highlighting the importance of Singapore in Indonesia's foreign economic relations.

According to foreign minister Hassan Wirayuda, Megawati and Goh discussed a wide range of subjects, including sensitive issues such as extradition and smuggling, and they agreed to follow it up with various meetings, down to the senior official level.

Other issues discussed by both leaders included joint efforts to combat international terrorism, haze problems originating from Indonesian forest fires, military training for Indonesians who have permanent residence in Singapore, protection for Indonesian workers here and efforts to revive Indonesia's economy.

"We don't have the pretension to solve all those problems in a very short time. It is agreed that there will be more intensive meetings.

"To improve bilateral relations, the two leaders also agreed to improve contact, either person-to-person or inter-institution contact," Hassan said.

He added that the two leaders also agreed to conduct follow-up talks behind closed doors to avoid "unnecessary public debate" that could sour relations between the two countries.

Indonesia's relations with Singapore suffered during the administrations of both of Megawati's predecessors.

BJ Habibie upset many Singaporeans in 1998 when he suggested that Singapore's minority Malays had been discriminated against by their government and dismissed Singapore as "a tiny red dot" on the map.

Former president Abdurrahman Wahid patched up the relations shortly after taking office in October 1999, making the city- state the first stop of his foreign tours and also personally courting Singaporean investors to return to Indonesia. But last November, he caused a diplomatic row when he, while in Singapore, accused the host nation of taking economic advantage of Indonesia and threatened to collude with Malaysia to deprive Singapore of its clean water supply.

It is believed that Megawati's ascent to the presidency will enable closer relations with Singapore. Megawati is not an unfamiliar face in Singapore, having visited here several times while she was vice president, either on official duty or for private matters, including, like many Indonesian officials, for medical checkups.

Singapore is the eighth stop in Megawati's whirlwind tour of nine capitals of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). She flew in from Bandar Sri Begawan earlier and is scheduled to fly to Kuala Lumpur on Monday before returning home on Tuesday.

Megawati reaffirmed Indonesia's foreign policy priority by making ASEAN capitals her destinations on her first foreign tour since her election as president last month.

While on the first seven stops she focused on getting acquainted with her counterparts more than anything else, the President appeared to have a more specific goal in her visit here as attested by the high-powered delegation.

All the three coordinating ministers and Laksamana were returning home after the meeting and were not joining Megawati's entourage to Malaysia.

Megawati's visit to Malaysia will be participated in by other Cabinet members already in her entourage: Hassan Wirayuda and State/Cabinet Secretary Bambang Kesowo. (emb/dja)