WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Foreign interests could lead to a breakup of Indonesia, and precipitate a much wider catastrophe than is now occurring in East Timor.
According to Oxford Analytica, a British political consulting firm, Indonesia blames Australia for "putting pressure on [Indonesia's President] Habibie through a letter sent by Prime Minister John Howard urging that a referendum be held in the territory [East Timor].
Indonesia fears that Australia may be seeking the means to weaken it. Australia has the motive, Indonesians believe, and in the turmoil in East Timor Australia sees opportunity. But without U.S./UN backing it lacks the means.
Indonesian President "Habibie and his civilian advisors, many of them drawn from the Association of Indonesian Muslim Intellectuals, have long argued that Catholic East Timor should be allowed to go its own way," says Oxford Analytica. Others fear that independence for East Timor "will set a disturbing precedent for other restive regions such as Irian Jaya and Aceh."
Aceh has been racked with violence. The Achenese seek a greater share of profits from Aceh's oil, and some seek outright independence from Indonesia.
Australia's offer to lead a UN peace-keeping force to East Timor is viewed with suspicion. About 200 years ago, aboriginals occupied all of Australia and the island of Tasmania. In Tasmania, following the arrival of the British - ancestors of today's white Australian's, not a single Aborigine survived, while those located on the coasts of mainland Australia were forced to flee inland or were killed.
Indonesia, with a population of 213 million, and 17,000 islands (6,000 inhabited) stretching for about 5000 km, "fears that Canberra is seeking to ally itself with East Timor so that it can take the best advantage of any future break-up of Indonesia."
The U.S. has its own interests in Indonesia, and shares responsibility for the events leading to the present situation in East Timor.
"American strategy in Asia," argues Stratfor.com "is focused on control of the archipelago of islands that runs down East Asia's coast. Starting with the Aleutians, the line runs through Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia, and is ultimately anchored on Singapore. Control of this line allows the U.S. to achieve three things."
"First, it provides the U.S. with a comprehensive line beyond which Chinese and Russian naval power cannot move in time of war. Second, the line provides the U.S. with offensive positions from which to threaten air and naval actions against the continent and even, should the need arise, occasional amphibious interventions along East Asia's coast. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it gives the U.S. implicit power over petroleum-hungry East Asia by placing the essential maritime choke points in the hands of U.S. naval forces."
The Asian financial crisis in 1997/98 revealed the weak underpinnings of Indonesia's economy a large part of which is in the hands of ethnic Chinese, and not the native majority Muslims. Indonesia brokered a $42 billion bailout package from the International Monetary Fund. Now this loan package has been jeopardized, and continued weakness in Indonesia's economy may trigger widespread unrest.
Meanwhile, President B. J. Habibie appears not to have full control, while Indonesia's military which plays a powerful role is adjusting to changes brought about when President Habbibie took over from President Suharto. Now Ms. Sukarnoputri, daughter of Indonesia's first President Sukarno, hopes to take over from President Habibie following a vote by the People's Consultative Assembly in November.
"The Indonesian fascist army is a monster that was created by Washington in the 1960s, when the U.S. was escalating the war in Vietnam," says former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, "Washington tipped the balance toward the fascist right wing of the military by training, equipping and financing a coup," which replaced President Sukarno with the U.S. favored President Suharto.
Suharto's army invaded East Timor in 1975 following its decolonization from Portugal (which obtained East Timor in an 1859 treat with the Netherlands), and the outbreak of civil war between pro- and anti-Marxist groups. The U.S., which viewed East Timor as another Cuba, looked the other way.
The Indonesia which emerged from years of Dutch colonial oppression in 1949 is a mix of cultures as diverse as those of say Washington, DC and the Indians of the Amazon forests. It is now in the midst of a volatile situation that could worsen, and destroy the fragile ties which bind Indonesia.
Provided that there have been no irregularities, Indonesia has little choice but to abide by its agreement with Portugal and the UN regarding the future of East Timor. But attempts to breakup Indonesia are likely to precipitate a much wider catastrophe than is now occurring in East Timor.
The first priority for Indonesia, and the international community, is to minimize harm to the people of East Timor and all of Indonesia. And it's in Indonesia's self interest to set aside internal divisions, and to be at the forefront of the solution to the problems in East Timor, Aceh, and Irian Jaya.
[A reader writes: "This is in fact, wrong. Not because the brutal colonists didn't try. At the time indigenous Tasmanians were herded onto tiny islands off the coast of Tasmania, and left in the 'care & protection' of various Christian church groups. It suited the vested interests of the gentry in Tasmania to claim that there were no Aboriginal people left in Tasmania. It also suited those who were rightly outraged by such actions to perpetuate this myth in describing how evil the colonisers were."]
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