Indonesia in no danger’ of break-up

Making a strong pitch for unity, Megawati vows to take tougher action against rebels in Aceh, and in fighting terrorism.

President Megawati Sukarnoputri said yesterday Indonesia had become safer and more stable since she took over power one year ago, and was no longer in danger of breaking up.

But in presenting a progress report to the top legislature on her first year in power, she signalled that the country’s security woes were far from over and pledged tougher action against separatist rebels in Aceh, and in fighting terrorism.

Stirring echoes of her inaugural speech last July when she took over power from Mr Abdurrahman Wahid, she made a strong pitch yesterday for unity and outlined once again that national security was her topmost priority.

She said that her government had set itself the task of ending conflicts in Aceh, Papua and Maluku, as well as in the districts of Poso in Sulawesi, North Maluku and Atambua in West Timor.

‘Although unfinished, efforts to settle conflicts in various districts have shown results,’ she said.

‘The threat of disintegration … that shadowed us for the past few years … has subsided,’ she added. However, Ms Megawati took on a different tone when she broached the subject of Aceh, for so long a thorn in the side of successive Indonesian governments.

She noted that a solution to the 25-year insurgency was increasingly difficult because the rebel Free Aceh Movement (GAM) wanted to create a separate state by armed means and by terrorising the population.

‘Because of that, the government is determined that firmer steps towards the armed GAM separatists are needed to guarantee the security and safety of the people,’ she said.

She added that Jakarta was in favour of continuing dialogue with the rebels on condition that they accepted a special autonomy law that allowed the province a greater share of revenue from oil and gas and the right to implement Islamic law.

But well-placed sources said that her pointed message to the Acehnese rebels yesterday all but killed any hope for peace talks.

It gave the military even more justification to use force and impose martial law in two of the most violent-prone districts in the area – Lhokeseumawe and Pidie.

The President’s hour-long speech also made special mention of the economy that appeared to have benefited from growing political stability. But a lot more needed to be done.

She said that there was still a large budget deficit, heavy foreign and domestic debts and low investor confidence. She acknowledged that shortcomings in the legal system were hurting foreign investment.

Ms Megawati also warned of more pain ahead as Jakarta went forward with the financial reforms prescribed by the International Monetary Fund.

The thrust of her message yesterday was this: Patience was needed for the tasks that remained.

She said: ‘We have to be realistic in that there is no quick solution for the complex problems we are facing now.’

But Aceh and the economy were not uppermost on the minds of the 700 legislators of the National Assembly yesterday.

Their main preoccupation was on the mechanics of directly electing a head of state in 2004.

That debate is expected to continue for the next 10 days as they try to decide if voters should make the final decision or whether it should be left to the parliamentarians.

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