KL-Jakarta ties ‘may be affected’


Anwar’s links with Indonesia’s elite are too close for them to brush his case aside, says Habibie adviser.

PRESIDENT B. J. Habibie’s foreign policy adviser has maintained that the arrest of former Malaysian Deputy Premier Anwar Ibrahim is likely to “cloud relations” between Indonesia and Malaysia.

Dr Dewi Fortuna Anwar said that the close ties between Anwar and many members of the political elite here meant that it would be difficult for Indonesians to just brush the issue aside.

She noted that there had always been strong links between Anwar’s think-tank, the Institute of Policy Research, and the Habibie-linked Centre for Information and Development Study.

“There are personal implications. Anwar is close with the leadership here,” she said.

Such links are evident with Dr Habibie now rethinking a planned visit to Malaysia this month.

Senior officials said concerns that a critical public here and abroad may misconstrue the visit could keep him from making the trip.

The Indonesian press has been very critical of events in Kuala Lumpur because they parallelled domestic concerns over democracy and human rights.

Anwar’s arrest and alleged beating, plus former Malaysian Deputy Premier Ghafar Baba’s scathing attack on the Indonesian press, sparked some hard-hitting editorials in local papers.

Speaking at a seminar on “Asean at the crossroads” on Friday, Dr Dewi pointed out that the saga highlighted differences between Asean countries in how they perceived human rights now.

She said: “Asean is in danger of being split between countries that regard democracy and human rights as universal values whose promotion become a common responsibility, and those that are still proponents of ‘Asian values’.”

“While the newly-democratising government in Indonesia may hesitate to abandon the non-interference principle, the increasingly free and vocal press and non-governmental organisations will undoubtedly air their opinions regarding happenings in neighbouring countries without much regard for regional solidarity or the government’s foreign policy concerns.”

For example, she said if NGOs in Indonesia organised a conference on Malaysia now, Jakarta would “not be able to do anything about it”.

Other speakers at the conference suggested that Asean’s principle of non-interference was no longer relevant.

Noted Mr Ikrar Nusa Bhakti from the Indonesian Institute of Social Sciences: “We should no longer be alarmed if an official of Thailand, for example, makes remarks on Indonesia or Malaysia.”

Dr Dewi said that Indonesia’s domestic problems have meant that Jakarta could no longer exercise a leadership role in resolving regional problems or bilateral disputes between Asean member countries.

She noted: “Indonesia’s strong commitment towards regional harmony and role as regional mediator have been important in keeping Asean together.

“Indonesia’s internal preoccupation and severe economic problems may contribute to a lost sense of direction within Asean.”

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