Separatist Rebellion Megawati's Biggest Problem

By Ehrlich, Richard S. | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), July 25, 2001 | Go to article overview

Separatist Rebellion Megawati's Biggest Problem


Ehrlich, Richard S., The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Byline: Richard S. Ehrlich

JAKARTA, Indonesia - President Megawati Sukarnoputri spent her first day in office yesterday grappling with bloodshed that threatens to rip her country apart.

Her predecessor, Abdurrahman Wahid, who was impeached Monday, wandered in a daze through the presidential palace that he refuses to vacate.

At the top of Mrs. Megawati's list: a separatist rebellion in Western Aceh province, the region that holds Indonesia's vast oil wealth.

Mrs. Megawati maintains a strong belief in a united Indonesia, and opposes greater autonomy for various regional and ethnic groups.

She opposed East Timor's independence from Indonesia, though she now accepts it as a fait accompli.

She is expected to be tougher than Mr. Wahid in response to demands for greater autonomy in Aceh, Irian Jaya and other zones where separatists are waging armed struggles.

Addressing an military think tank earlier this month, Mrs. Megawati said, "Terror has become a new language" used by Indonesians to gain power.

She said that her countrymen need to find "a democratic, civilized and responsible . . . way out of this critical time" and not become a "barbarian race" unable to practice democracy. In Jakarta, all eyes were on Mrs. Megawati yesterday as she shook hands with politicians, dignitaries, officials and others while forming new alliances and coalitions after being sworn in as president on Monday.

"The good thing is that she is willing to listen to advisers and willing to ask for advice," said former presidential palace press director, Dharmawan Ronodipuro, in an interview.

Mrs. Megawati is expected to seek foreign investment, her first step being to accept terms set down by the International Monetary Fund.

At stake is $400 million loan from the IMF, the latest installment on a bailout that dates back to the 1997 Asian economic crisis. …

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