Indonesia's President Backs Away from Tolerance ; Security Forces Clamped Down on Separatists in Two Provinces This Weekend

By Murphy, Dan | The Christian Science Monitor, December 5, 2000 | Go to article overview

Indonesia's President Backs Away from Tolerance ; Security Forces Clamped Down on Separatists in Two Provinces This Weekend


Murphy, Dan, The Christian Science Monitor


Some 10 people were killed in clashes between separatists and Indonesian security forces over the weekend, as Jakarta followed through on a promised crackdown against separatism.

Four senior independence leaders were jailed as security forces pulled down the independence movement's "Morning Star" flag across the sprawling province of Irian Jaya, which is about the same size as Great Britain. The flags were flying to commemorate the 39th anniversary of an independence declaration, made while the Netherlands was in the process of handing the territory over to Indonesia.

Meanwhile, 2,700 miles away, Indonesian forces were pulling down the independence flags of the Aceh independence movement, which celebrated its own separatist anniversary on Dec. 4. At least two people were killed in gun battles between Indonesian forces and armed separatists.

Almost exactly a year into the presidency of Abdurrahman Wahid, a moderate Muslim politician who is Indonesia's first democratically elected leader in more than 40 years, the wheels are starting to come off his policies of inclusion and dialogue.

On Friday, Mr. Wahid signaled the change in policy: "There should be no effort to ... secede from the unitary state of the Republic of Indonesia, be that in Irian Jaya ... or in Aceh." he said in a statement.

The change virtually guarantees that the temperature of Indonesia's already bloody secessionist movements is about to rise. He promised "firm action" against separatists.

Wahid rode to power on promises that the military's heavy-handed ways would be exchanged for dialogue, and that all citizens would be free to express their desires. On New Years Eve 1999, the new approach was symbolized by his visit to Irian, which is called West Papua by its inhabitants.

He told independence leaders their flags would be allowed to fly as a symbol of their political aspirations, and that he'd change the province's name to Papua. Now, the flags are being pulled down, and activists warn the crackdown is a prelude to more clashes. Indonesia has rushed 1,500 fresh combat troops to the province in the past month.

Seven people were killed over the weekend when soldiers opened fire on separatists in the coastal city of Merauke. …

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