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Indonesia News Digest 9 March 1-8, 2007
News & issues
Jakarta Post - March 6, 2007
Wahyoe Boediwardhana, Malang A national land reform program
aimed at redistributing state land to the poor has run up against
a major obstacle: most of the land targeted in the program is
outside of Java, which is exactly where most of the poor live.
National Land Agency (BPN) head Joyo Witono said Monday that
plans to redistribute 9.25 million hectares of land by 2015 would
have to involve academics "to help seek a suitable design for the
He said the main problem was that most of the poor are in Java
while most of the land to be distributed lies outside Java. And
while most of the land is outside of Java, Joyo said officials
did not want to move large numbers of people to other islands.
The New Order-era transmigration program now enjoys a largely bad
reputation. Many of the poor people who were moved from Java to
outer islands under the program complained of being given
unproductive land and never receiving the necessary
infrastructure and support to succeed in their new homes.
Speaking at Brawijaya University here, Joyo said participants in
the program, unveiled by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono last
year, would be drawn from among landless poor farmers living in
The program, he said, "should not be just about redistributing
land. What we want is for people to develop and improve their
standards of living."
Of the 9.25 million hectares in the program, Joyo said 8.15
million hectares were located in 102 regencies across 17
provinces outside of Java. The majority of the country's poor are
in Java, followed by Sumatra and Sulawesi.
The government has already distributed 1.159 million hectares of
land to 1.2 million people, with each person receiving an average
of 1.77 hectares, he said.
The land reform program is based on a law passed in 1960.
However, because the main political sponsor of that law was the
now-banned Indonesian Communist Party it has in the past received
little political support.
Now "the middle class and leaders of Islamic boarding schools
would unlikely support the redistribution of big plots of land",
researcher Isono Sadoko of the Akatiga Social Research Center in
Bandung said Monday.
However, Golkar legislator Ferry Mursyidan Baldan praised the
program as an effort to reduce poverty.
"The program will give farmers legal certainty as they will get
land certificates. These certificates can be used as collateral
for bank loans when the farmers need money to cultivate their
land," he said.
Ferry also asked the government not to charge program
participants fees for the land certificates.
Acknowledging there might not be enough land for all of the
country's poor, Ferry said the government should pursue the
program and assess the need for additional land.
Isono said the government still needed to clarify the details of
If the government distributes land on former plantations that are
no longer attractive to the state, this could be a burden to the
poor regarding the production and marketing of their agricultural
products, Isono said.
Isono, who is also a researcher with the World Bank, said a
comprehensive land reform program must address issues such as
production and marketing, apart from requiring strong political
support and solid land management. "We're not even quite clear
yet what this land reform concept is," Isono said Monday.
"The President and Joyo may be serious," Isono said, "but the BPN
is not performing well." He said one of the main weaknesses was
the lack of comprehensive data on both the land and the number of
Although the President had hoped that the program would
officially begin this April, Joyo said a Cabinet meeting first
needed to be held to discuss the matter.
Isono said land redistribution could succeed, pointing out that
about 70 percent of the land in the country is claimed by the
state, mostly in the form of state plantations.
"So there is the potential of redistribution without disrupting
non-state owned land" through the rearrangement of plantations,
Isono said. Ownership of this state land can be transferred to
individuals, on the condition that they not resell the land, and
also with clear mechanisms for sharing the profit from the land.
"The owners will then work hard on the land and guard the area
against theft, knowing the profits for exports," Isono said.
Joyo said the total budget for the program is estimated at Rp 396
trillion, with the money coming from the state budget, the
banking sector and other sources.
Detik.com - March 5, 2007
Indra Subagja, Jakarta Around 30 members of the Central
Leadership Committee of the National Liberation Party of Unity
(Papernas) arrived at the national police headquarters earlier
today. They were demanding that Police Chief General Sutanto take
firm action against the Indonesian Anti-Communist Front (FAKI)
that attacked and broke up the East Java regional Papernas
conference in Batu City, Malang on March 4.
"We are demanding that the police immediately initiate legal
proceedings to arrest and try the FAKI leadership and
organisations of this type", said the head of Papernas' political
and democratisation division, Dominggus Oktavianus, at police
headquarters on Jl. Trunojoyo in South Jakarta on Monday March 5.
During an audience with the head of the public information
division, Police Superintendent Bambang Kuncoko, who was acting
in the capacity of the representative for police headquarters,
Papernas also demanded that the national police dismiss Batu City
Municipal Police Chief Assistant Superintendent Bambang Priyo
"The person concerned has been negligent and failed to carry out
their duties to provide security protection", said Dominggus. The
Papernas leadership also said that there is no basis to claim
that their party to is following a course towards communism.
Kuncoko meanwhile said that the national police have accepted the
complaint and will immediately conduct and investigation. "We
will make inquiries, conduct an investigation and settle this
legally", he said.
Having been at police headquarters since 11am, after one-and-a-
half hours the Papernas members left. (nik/nrl)
[Translated by James Balowski.]
News & issues
Land reform faces rocky road
Papernas demands police arrest leader of anti-communist group
Rice out of reach for Lampung's poor
News & issues
Jakarta Post - March 6, 2007
Wahyoe Boediwardhana, Malang A national land reform program aimed at redistributing state land to the poor has run up against a major obstacle: most of the land targeted in the program is outside of Java, which is exactly where most of the poor live.
National Land Agency (BPN) head Joyo Witono said Monday that plans to redistribute 9.25 million hectares of land by 2015 would have to involve academics "to help seek a suitable design for the plan".
He said the main problem was that most of the poor are in Java while most of the land to be distributed lies outside Java. And while most of the land is outside of Java, Joyo said officials did not want to move large numbers of people to other islands.
The New Order-era transmigration program now enjoys a largely bad reputation. Many of the poor people who were moved from Java to outer islands under the program complained of being given unproductive land and never receiving the necessary infrastructure and support to succeed in their new homes.
Speaking at Brawijaya University here, Joyo said participants in the program, unveiled by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono last year, would be drawn from among landless poor farmers living in designated locations.
The program, he said, "should not be just about redistributing land. What we want is for people to develop and improve their standards of living."
Of the 9.25 million hectares in the program, Joyo said 8.15 million hectares were located in 102 regencies across 17 provinces outside of Java. The majority of the country's poor are in Java, followed by Sumatra and Sulawesi.
The government has already distributed 1.159 million hectares of land to 1.2 million people, with each person receiving an average of 1.77 hectares, he said.
The land reform program is based on a law passed in 1960. However, because the main political sponsor of that law was the now-banned Indonesian Communist Party it has in the past received little political support.
Now "the middle class and leaders of Islamic boarding schools would unlikely support the redistribution of big plots of land", researcher Isono Sadoko of the Akatiga Social Research Center in Bandung said Monday.
However, Golkar legislator Ferry Mursyidan Baldan praised the program as an effort to reduce poverty.
"The program will give farmers legal certainty as they will get land certificates. These certificates can be used as collateral for bank loans when the farmers need money to cultivate their land," he said.
Ferry also asked the government not to charge program participants fees for the land certificates.
Acknowledging there might not be enough land for all of the country's poor, Ferry said the government should pursue the program and assess the need for additional land.
Isono said the government still needed to clarify the details of the program.
If the government distributes land on former plantations that are no longer attractive to the state, this could be a burden to the poor regarding the production and marketing of their agricultural products, Isono said.
Isono, who is also a researcher with the World Bank, said a comprehensive land reform program must address issues such as production and marketing, apart from requiring strong political support and solid land management. "We're not even quite clear yet what this land reform concept is," Isono said Monday.
"The President and Joyo may be serious," Isono said, "but the BPN is not performing well." He said one of the main weaknesses was the lack of comprehensive data on both the land and the number of poor.
Although the President had hoped that the program would officially begin this April, Joyo said a Cabinet meeting first needed to be held to discuss the matter.
Isono said land redistribution could succeed, pointing out that about 70 percent of the land in the country is claimed by the state, mostly in the form of state plantations.
"So there is the potential of redistribution without disrupting non-state owned land" through the rearrangement of plantations, Isono said. Ownership of this state land can be transferred to individuals, on the condition that they not resell the land, and also with clear mechanisms for sharing the profit from the land.
"The owners will then work hard on the land and guard the area against theft, knowing the profits for exports," Isono said.
Joyo said the total budget for the program is estimated at Rp 396 trillion, with the money coming from the state budget, the banking sector and other sources.
Detik.com - March 5, 2007
Indra Subagja, Jakarta Around 30 members of the Central Leadership Committee of the National Liberation Party of Unity (Papernas) arrived at the national police headquarters earlier today. They were demanding that Police Chief General Sutanto take firm action against the Indonesian Anti-Communist Front (FAKI) that attacked and broke up the East Java regional Papernas conference in Batu City, Malang on March 4.
"We are demanding that the police immediately initiate legal proceedings to arrest and try the FAKI leadership and organisations of this type", said the head of Papernas' political and democratisation division, Dominggus Oktavianus, at police headquarters on Jl. Trunojoyo in South Jakarta on Monday March 5.
During an audience with the head of the public information division, Police Superintendent Bambang Kuncoko, who was acting in the capacity of the representative for police headquarters, Papernas also demanded that the national police dismiss Batu City Municipal Police Chief Assistant Superintendent Bambang Priyo Andogho.
"The person concerned has been negligent and failed to carry out their duties to provide security protection", said Dominggus. The Papernas leadership also said that there is no basis to claim that their party to is following a course towards communism.
Kuncoko meanwhile said that the national police have accepted the complaint and will immediately conduct and investigation. "We will make inquiries, conduct an investigation and settle this legally", he said.
Having been at police headquarters since 11am, after one-and-a- half hours the Papernas members left. (nik/nrl)
[Translated by James Balowski.]
Jakarta Post - March 5, 2007
Oyos Saroso H.N., Bandarlampung On a rainy afternoon, Murtatiningsih, 37, spoon feeds her young child in front of her house in Bayur subdistrict, Rajabasa district in Bandarlampung.
The child seems to enjoy the food even though she is being fed a piece of fried tempe (soybean cake) and rice that has been mixed with oyek.
Oyek is made of dried cassava and can be mixed with rice to make larger quantities or eaten as a substitute for rice. A kilogram of rice mixed with 1.5 kg of oyek is enough for the daily meals of nine people. For Murtatiningsih, oyek is a staple in times of hardship.
The State Logistics Agency (Bulog) has sold subsidized rice in a number of markets in Bandarlampung for the past several days. But Murtatiningsih and her husband Paino cannot afford it.
"The markets where the cheap rice is sold are far away. Even if we could buy a few kilograms of rice, we don't have enough money for transportation. So we just have to make do with oyek," said the mother of seven.
Murtatiningsih and her family are forced to consume oyek two to three months of the year when the price of rice skyrockets. While they do till a small plot of rice paddy themselves, stocks never last long. "I usually make oyek once a year for when our rice stock runs out," she said.
Paino, 40, is a farmer working on a sharecropping basis. He receives 300 kg of rice for his labor, while the owner of the rice paddy receives 200 kg.
"This rice lasts a few months. After that, we have to eat rice mixed with oyek. We have sidedishes if we have enough money, otherwise we just eat oyek with a dash of salt," said Murtatiningsih.
Her family has been eating oyek mixed with rice for the past month. Their rice stock has dwindled to three kg, which is enough for the next three days. Then they will be forced to eat pure oyek.
Murtatiningsih said her family had never had the opportunity to eat Bulog-subsidized rice, which costs Rp 3,700 (approximately 41 US cents) per kg. "I want to buy the rice but I can't afford to at the moment," she said.
Many believe that distribution methods for Bulog-subsidized rice are not effective. "It seems that those who buy this rice are not poor. They have motorcycles and cars to transport sacks of rice, while the actual poor are not reached," said Riyadi Murdoko, the head of the advocation division of Lampung's Anti-Corruption Commission.
According to Murdoko, the large number of families eating oyek in Bandarlampung is disheartening.
"If there are people in the city who still can't afford to eat rice, there must be distribution problems. We have discovered that most of the subsidized rice is being purchased by those who do not need it. Even some village administration heads have been reselling subsidized rice to make a profit," said Murdoko.
Bandarlampung municipal councillor Mungliana said Bulog- subsidized rice and rice-for-the-poor provisions should be for poor people. He said that the administration should have accurate data on the number of families requiring support so that rice provisions can be channeled to those who need it.
"Without such data, only traders and rich people are benefiting from this cheap rice intended for the poor. Take a look, many collecting the rice have cars. They are obviously not poor," said Mungliana.
The administration provides 18 kg of rice for each poor family in Bandarlampung per month. This is clearly not enough, leaving many poor families to survive on rice mixed with oyek or aking (dry, leftover rice).
Jakarta Post - March 3, 2007
Anissa S. Febrina, Jakarta Building the East Flood Canal according to the current plan, which was drawn up about 80 years ago, would only heighten the threat of flooding in the city, experts say.
Speaking on Tuesday at a public discussion on spatial planning, Trisakti University hydrology expert Erwin Iskandar recommended the start of the canal be taken further south.
"Both of the flood canals were designed according to conditions in Batavia, or old Jakarta, which had a total area of 2,500 hectares," Erwin said. "Now the city's area is 65,000 hectares, the master plan must be revised."
He said that by taking the start of the canal further south, where the land was higher, the flood risk in outer areas would be minimized.
Erwin said the existing West Flood Canal was only able to stop central areas of Jakarta from flooding because at the time of its construction the outer areas were not inhabited and therefore in less need of protection.
The West Canal Flood, designed by engineer Herman van Breen, was constructed in 1922 in response to the great flood in Batavia in 1918. The canal cut through the Cideng, Krukut and Grogol rivers, channeling their water directly into the sea.
"Their main concern then was to keep people living in Weltevreden (now the Medan Merdeka area) and Menteng dry. Fortunately, the outer areas had not been inhabited," Erwin said.
As witnessed today, outer areas like Manggarai, South Jakarta, and Jatinegara, East Jakarta, were among the most severely affected in both the 2002 and 2007 floods.
He said a similar condition could be created in outer areas of the East Flood Canal, like Cipinang in East Jakarta, if the project were to be built to the current plan.
During last month's floods, 75 percent of the city was affected, almost four times the area affected in 2002.
For the city administration it is the perfect time to push forward with the canal plan.
The project, which is scheduled for completion by 2010, requires a Rp 4.124 trillion investment both for land acquisition and the construction of the stretch of the canal that would cut through the Cipinang, Sunter and Cakung rivers. As of today, only a 7.7 km stretch of the 23.7-km canal has been completed.
The canal, which has an upstream depth of three meters and a downstream depth of seven m, is projected to accommodate more than 390 cubic meters of water per second.
Environmentalists have criticized the plan as shortsighted and suggested either building lakes or developing a deep tunnel reservoir.
During the discussion, Tarumanagara urban planning expert Kemal Taruc highlighted the need for the city administration to develop a land contour map to calculate average depths across the city in a hypothetical flood.
"The simulation is needed as a precaution. We could warn residents based on the estimated depths," Kemal said.
He added that previously urban planners and experts from the Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology (BPPT) had offered to establish floodplain boundaries and flood depths through detailed analysis.
"Unfortunately, the administration does not even have a thing as simple as a land contour map."
Jakarta Post - March 1, 2007
Jakarta Traditional market traders once again expressed their disappointment in the city administration Wednesday for failing to "control" modern retailers and protect their businesses.
This time, the traders, joined in the Alliance of Trader Associations, urged the city administration to issue a gubernatorial decree on market regulations to rectify the existing 2002 city ordinance on modern retail restrictions.
"We expect the administration to make an instruction to stop the unfair and inappropriate expansion of modern retail stores, which is causing us to suffer losses," Susanto, a representative of the Association of Modern Market Suppliers, said Wednesday after meeting with the city administration.
The growing number of hypermarkets has been blamed for causing smaller retail outlets to go out of business, despite the existence of the ordinance that limits the size and number of modern stores in each municipality.
The alliance consists of eight associations: the Association of Cosmetics Industries, Association of Traditional Market Traders, Association of Food and Beverages Industries, National Meat Processors Association, Association of Modern Market Suppliers, Association of Electronic Industries, Association of Garment and Accessories Suppliers and Association of Salt Producers.
The alliance has agreed to help the administration revitalize 151 city traditional markets, as well as to establish a traditional market with a new concept called Pasar Kenanga.
"Pasar Kenanga will be more comfortable than your average traditional market, but we have yet to pick the location," said Putri Wardani of the Association of Cosmetics Industries, adding that Pasar Kenanga would be established at the site of one of the existing traditional markets. She said the traders were still working on the concept.
In 2003, the Association of Modern Market Suppliers filed a complaint with the Business Competition Supervisory Commission (KPPU) against French giant retailer Carrefour, accusing it of unfair competition.
The giant retailer denied it had carried out an unfair business practice by applying a "minus margin" policy in its contracts with suppliers as previously declared by the KPPU, and later filed an appeal with the Supreme Court in 2005.
The alliance reported that traditional markets throughout the city had suffered financial losses of up to 75 percent, and some of the traders made less than Rp 50,000 daily.
"We've been in a difficult situation since many buyers chose to go to modern shopping centers instead of traditional markets," said Ngadiran, a representative of the Indonesian Traditional Market Traders Association.
In 2004, seven traditional markets in the city Blora, Cilincing, Cipinang Besar, Kramat Jaya, Muncang, Prumpung Tengah and Sinar Utara were closed down due to financial losses. There are 13,450 traditional markets nationwide, with the total number of traders estimated at 12,625,000.
A 2003 survey by the Retail Measurement Service of AC Nielsen showed the number of traditional markets had decreased by 8 percent over two years, while the number of modern retailers had increased by more than 30 percent during the same period.
|International Women's Day|
Aceh Kita - March 8, 2007
Banda Aceh Acehnese women from the Gender Working Group (GWG) held a peaceful action to commemorate International Women's Day (IWD) on Thursday March 8.
The action was joined by hundreds of Acehnese women and women activists. Transsexuals who are generally employed as beauty salon workers also joined in enlivening the action."Transsexuals are also human beings" read one of the placards that they brought.
The action proceeded on foot from the Great Baiturrahman Mosque to Simpang Lima and ended at the Regional House of Representatives Building, Banda Aceh."We are demanding to be more involved in the process of Aceh's reconstruction, rehabilitation and reconciliation post the tsunami and conflict", said action coordinator Asrida Vonna.
According to the protesters, over the more than two years that the process of reconstruction and rehabilitation has proceeded in Aceh, the involvement and participation of women has been far from expectations. In the handling of post conflict issues also, there has been almost no involvement of Acehnese women. Meanwhile the reconstruction and reconciliation process, which has involved many parties, has yet to provide any significant progress in the lives of women in Aceh.
GWG coordinator Lailisma Sofyati cited as an example the many women living in barracks that are discriminated against in decision making in their immediate environment. In addition to this there is inadequate attention paid to women who were victims of violence during the period of the conflict.
The evidence. Acehnese women have not been directly involved in decision making either at the Aceh Reintegration Agency or the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) Aceh Transitional Committee. "Inong Balee (GAM women fighters) are not included as a part of the TNA (GAM soldiers) that has the right to reintegration funds", she said.
Sofyati related how data from the National Women's Commission recorded 191 case of violence against women in refugees camps in Aceh between October 2005 to February 2006. The forms of violence were varied such as domestic violence and sexual harassment.
In commemorating IWD, GWG Aceh is demanding that the new Aceh government increase women's involvement in all forms of policy making in Aceh. They also called on the new government to reevaluate the understanding of and application of Islamic law that is being used for discriminative practices of those in power.
Don't use violence
On the question of the application of Islamic law, Aden, the Chairperson of the Association of Transsexual Salon Workers (APSW), said that violence should not be used to enforce the law and that they are often treated unjustly by officials. "If there is an operationdon't use violence, leave us to work in peace, because this is how we earn a living", said Aden.
Aden confessed that officials often use violence when they are raiding beauty salons that are suspected of conducting activities that violate Islamic Law. There have even been a number of beauty salons that been closed down.
Furthermore, they are also demanding that there not be a prohibition on transsexuals working in women's salons."We are workers right, we don't offend the clients", explained Aden. [Adw]
[Translated by James Balowski.]
Detik.com - March 8, 2007
Nur Raihan, Banda Aceh Hundreds of Acehnese women's activists held a march from the Baiturrahman Great Mosque in the provincial capital of Banda Aceh to the offices of the Aceh Regional House of Representatives (DPRD) on March 8. The action was organised to commemorate International Women's day. In addition to the women activists, scores of transsexuals were also involved in the march.
Upon arriving at the DPRD on Jl. Tengku Daud Beureueh, they held speeches calling on the new Acehnese government to increase the involvement of women in the process of rehabilitation, reconstruction and reconciliation in Aceh.
They also called for an evaluation of the understanding and application of Islamic law that they said was not gender sensitive and opposed the application of Islamic law for the discriminative practices those in power.
Their other demand was to call on the legislative and the executive to involve women in the process of planning, formulation, deliberation, ratification and evaluation of Qanun (by-laws) in Aceh. In addition to this they called on the new Aceh government and all layers of society to immediately end violence against women.
Transsexuals demand rights
It was not just women activists but also transsexuals the majority of whom work in beauty salons in Banda Aceh who were demanding their rights be fulfilled and respected.
Idar, a transsexual who manages a beauty salon, called on the new Acehnese government to respect their profession. "We are workers. So don't raid [our establishments] and accuse us of all sorts of things. We are seeking lawful employment", said Idar during a speech in front of members of the Aceh DPRD.
Over the last few days, the Banda Aceh municipal government has indeed been vigorously conducting raids on a number of beauty salons in Banda Aceh. "We also have the right to live and work. So, please respect us", said Idar. (ray/nrl)
[Translated by James Balowski.]
Aceh Kita - March 8, 2007
Armia AM, Lhokseumawe The Free Aceh Movement (GAM) has declared its commitment to fight for cases of past human rights cases. In addition to this, GAM has also admitted that it will continue to seek amendments to Law Number 11/2006 on Aceh Governance.
"GAM will endeavour to undertake those things that were agreed to in the Helsinki MoU (Memorandum of Understanding), including those pertaining to cases of human rights violations", said GAM spokesperson Bakhtiar Abdullah when speaking with Aceh Kita after attending the inauguration of the North Aceh governor not long ago.
Cases of past human rights violations remain a subject of heated debate. Why is it that Indonesia considers that the only cases of human rights violations that can be tried in the Human Rights Court are only those that took place during the time period following the Helsinki agreement.
GAM however is insisting that crimes against human rights prior to the Helsinki agreement must also be investigated. The Aceh governance law also states that the only human rights violations that can be tried in the Human Rights Court are those that took pace post the Helsinki negotiations.
Abdullah believes that Law Number 11/2006 was ratified by the Indonesian government before it not fully based on the Helsinki MoU that was signed by GAM and Indonesia on August 15, 2005. It is because of this therefore, that Abdullah hopes that the recently elected governor and regency heads will be able to fight for amendments to the law.
In addition to this, Abdullah said he hopes that the current Aceh leadership will be able to fight for the welfare of the victims of the conflict who have already suffered greatly since the conflict broke out in Aceh. [akh]
[Translated by James Balowski.]
Aceh Kita - March 5, 2007
Banda Aceh While waiting to officially declare the party, the Acehnese People's Party (PRA) the first local political party in Aceh is currently in process of establishing a party leadership board. This was conveyed by PRA General Chairperson Thamren Ananda in Banda Aceh on Monday March 5. "At this time we are currently preparing the management structure, to make ready for the declaration", he said when speaking with Aceh Kita.
The first stages that will be undertaken in the lead up to the declaration includes a cabinet formation meeting that is planned to be held on March 18 in Lhokseumawe, North Aceh. This will be followed by the establishment of a leadership board and its inauguration in Banda Aceh. Ananda said that the PRA would be declared immediately after all of these stages are complete. "There is a good possibility that it will still be in March", he said.
The declaration he said does not have to wait for the government regulation on local parties to be ratified by the government. According to Ananda, the spirit for the establishment of local parties is based on Law Number 11/2006 on Aceh Governance. "So we don't have to wait for the government regulation on local parties [to be ratified]", he said.
As reported previously, Ananda was elected as the general chairperson and Aguswandi as the general secretary during a congress that was attended by around 400 party members from throughout Aceh. The congress started on February 27 and ended on March 2.
In addition to this, the congress also succeeded in formulating the PRA's future program. "Later we will announce it to the public at the declaration, not right now", said Ananda. For the moment, Ananda also declined to give his views on the current Aceh government. [Adw]
[Translated by James Balowski.]
Aceh Kita - March 2, 2007
Banda Aceh Aguswandi BR and Thamrin Ananda have been elected by acclaim as the general chairperson and secretary general of the Acehnese People's Party for the next five year period. They were democratically elected by around 400 participants of the first congress of the Preparatory Committee for the Acehnese People's Party (KP-PRA) that has been taking place at the Aula State Vocational School in Banda Aceh since Tuesday February 27. The congress ended today on March 2.
There were in fact 10 candidates nominated by congress participants including Raihana Diani (chairperson of the Women's Organisation for Aceh Democracy, ORPAD), Tarmizi Msi (former general secretary of Student Solidarity for the People, SMUR), Fuad Mardhatillah (a lecturer from the Ar-Raniry State Institute of Islamic Studies), Ely Supriadi (Aceh Fraternity) and Mahmudal (former chairperson of SMUR). However when asked if they were prepared to be nominated as candidate leaders of the party they refused. Only Aguswandi and Ananda stated that they were ready to be nominated as general chairperson and secretary general.
Ananda, who had earlier been put forward as general chairperson declined to be nominated for the position saying that it would be more appropriate for the post to be held by Aguswandi. Likewise, Aguswandi said he would be ready to lead the party if he was pared up with Ananda. In the end, participants elected the two youths as leaders of the PRA. Earlier, a number of participants had insisted that the election by held through a vote as two tickets had been put forward, Aguswandi (as general chairperson) paired with Ananda (as general secretary). The other ticket meanwhile was Ananda (as general chairperson) and Aguswandi (as general secretary).
The chairperson of the congress organising committee, Rahmat Djailani, said that the election of the party leadership proceeded democratically. "Now there is a definitive general chairperson and general secretary", said Rahmat following the election. Rahmat himself was also nominated as a candidate along with Raihana but both withdrew from the nomination.
With this new leadership said Rahmat, the KP-PRA will be disbanded within a short time. "The KP-PRA no longer exists. Later we will declare it as the Acehnese People's Party", he said. However the schedule for the declaration of the PRA as the first local political party in Aceh remains unclear.
Ananda meanwhile said that he and Aguswandi would carry out the tasks given to them by the congress. But when asked about the future program, Ananda declined to elaborate. "Later we will convey it to the public. Not right now", he said. "Including the PRA's views on the present government, local party candidates that will be declared".
Aguswandi is not new to PRA activist circles. During the 1999 reform period, the man born in Sibreh, Greater Aceh held the position of SMUR general secretary. Within student activist circles, Aguswandi is known as an activist vocal in challenging government policies that fail to side with the ordinary people. At the time he vigorously challenged the militaristic policies of the government in dealing with the Aceh conflict. As a consequence of his stand, the commander of the Teuku Umar 012 District Military Command, Syarifuddin Tippe, once referred to him as an enemy of the state. [dzie]
[Translated by James Balowski.]
Aceh Kita - March 1, 2007
Banda Aceh Around 75 participants attending a conference of the Preparatory Committee for the Acehnese People's Party (KP- PRA) are being treated at the Zainoel Abidin Public Hospital for poisoning after consuming food. Twenty three are still being treated in hospital.
The head of the emergency treatment ward at the hospital, Murniati said that as many as 75 congress participants being treated, 23 of which are in a serious condition. "Patients are still arriving. We are still unable to confirm the cause of the scores of people's illness", he told journalists on Thursday morning, March 1.
According to KP-PRA chairperson Thamrin Ananda, the symptoms of poisoning began to be felt at around 11.30pm on Wednesday after congress participants consumed food provided by the organizing committee. As soon as it was known that they had been poisoned, the organising committee immediately took them to the hospital at around 12 midnight.
Participants said that they began to experience dizziness after consuming dinner at around 8pm. This was then followed by cake at 10pm. "Participants experienced headaches, vomiting and nauseous stomachs, and diarrhea", said Kamra (26), a participant from South Aceh. "The participants that did not eat dinner did not get sick".
The KP-PRA is holding its first congress in Banda Aceh between February 27 to March 2. Around 400 people are attending the congress from 16 regencies/municipalities. At the end of the congress, they will declare the Acehnese People's Party as the first local political party in Aceh. The congress will also elect a chairperson and general secretary. [dzie]
[Translated by James Balowski.]
Jakarta Post - March 8, 2007
Jakarta Attorney General Abdul Rahman Saleh said Wednesday that the Association of Relatives of Missing People (IKOHI) would not be able to bring the case of 13 missing activists to the Human Rights Court of the United Nations.
"The case is under discussion at the Attorney General's Office and the Human Rights Commission, while the government has yet to go through all legal procedures," the attorney general said, as quoted by Antara news agency.
Human Rights Commission chairman Abdul Hakim Garuda said the case could be brought to the international arena if the country did not have adequate, effective laws to process human rights violations.
The association of relatives planned to file the case in which 13 activists went missing between 1997 and 1998 with the UN court through the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances by late March.
Meanwhile, the Consultative Body of the House of Representatives declined the recommendation by lawmakers on Tuesday to re-open "gross human violation" cases, including the case of the 13 missing activists.
Jakarta Post - March 8, 2007
Jakarta The number of reported cases of violence against women has continued to increase despite ongoing anti-violence campaigns, a National Commission on Violence Against Women survey has indicated.
The commission noted, however, that many women were now confident enough to report the perpetration of violence against them.
In its annual report, the commission stated that the total number of cases of violence against women in 2006 reached 22,512, up from the 20,391 cases reported in 2005 and the 14,020 cases in 2004. In 2003, only 7,787 cases were recorded.
"Just like the previous years, domestic violence remains our biggest problem with a total of 16,709 cases (76 percent), followed by violence that happens in the community with 5,240 cases (23 percent). The survey has also found 43 cases of violence by the state apparatus," the commission's chief, Kamala Chandrakirana, said at the launching of the body's annual report Wednesday, one day before International Women's Day.
Kamala said more than 60 percent of cases last year were directly reported by the victims, indicating that awareness of the issue among the general public was currently strong.
The commission reported that more than 70 percent of cases from 2005 were also reported directly by victims to the commission or its partners.
In addition to victims' reports, the commission and its working partners across the country also compiled its data from reports from witnesses, a national telephone hotline and referrals from other institutions. The media also contributed, reporting 1,200 cases in 2006.
The recent survey found that as many as 1,259 cases of violence occurred among migrant workers. Nine cases were also found to have occurred among women refugees in the tsunami-hit province of Aceh and among the Ahmadiyah community.
Kamala said, however, that there were good signs springing from the struggle to minimize violence against women, with the government now producing policies and regulations favorable to women.
"The new law on citizenship that took effect last year is just one example. And there is also the new police law, which allows policemen charged with crimes to be tried in district courts," she said.
Meanwhile, at Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) headquarters, women activists said that despite the new law against domestic violence, "The state still allowed the opportunity for violence against women through various laws and regulations."
Activists cited regional regulations, such as curfews, which have led to the unfounded arrests of women on suspicion of prostitution.
Activists from various organizations, including Fatayat NU, Jurnal Perempuan, LBH APIK and the Coalition for Indonesian Women met at NU headquarters to welcome International Women's Day on Thursday.
Jakarta Post - March 8, 2007
Ridwan Max Sijabat, Jakarta Questions have been raised on the rights of the disabled, but no special policies or concrete actions have yet been taken to empower the more than 1.48 million disabled people in this country.
The disabled have frequently been denied access to work in private companies and state institutions. Those who have found work in industries and the bureaucracy frequently face discrimination. Public places, buildings and transport facilities have yet to give special space to ensure equal treatment for all citizens, including the disabled.
Director General for Services and Rehabilitation at the Ministry of Social Affairs Makmun Sunusi admitted disabled people have yet to receive the same treatment as other citizens. He said all stakeholders have yet to show commitment to empowering those suffering from disability.
"There is no single problem with the fundamental rights of the disabled. Many have spoken about their rights, but nobody apparently cares for their difficult condition. The government has included their rights in the law and even ratified several ILO conventions endorsing (disabled people's) rights to equal treatment in the workplace, payment and social security protection but (the government) and employers have yet to give adequate attention to empowering them," Makmun told a seminar here Wednesday.
He said the disabled should be given priority access to labor recruitment since many were economically poor and less educated, as well as suffering from physical disabilities.
"Disabled people's traditional role as masseurs should be changed that they can also do white-collar jobs in IT, electronics and other fields suitable to their physical condition," he said.
Data from the Manpower and Transmigration Ministry reveals that only 705 out of more than 1.4 million disabled people are employed in 79 private companies in nine provinces. None are employed in state institutions.
Law No. 4/1997 requires private companies and state institutions to give equal treatment to the disabled and that their employment be based on their education and skills.
The Director General of Labor Placement at the ministry, Myra M. Hanartani, said the empowerment of the disabled needed a national action plan from all stakeholders, particularly local governments and employers.
"Local governments and employers should play an active role in a national movement to empower the disabled," she said.
An interdepartmental team has been established under the coordination of the Ministry of Social Affairs for that purpose, but so far no concrete action has been taken.
Manpower and Transmigration Minister Erman Suparno called on employers to hire at least one disabled person for every 100 able-bodied workers, to show their commitment to helping the disabled.
"The handicapped have the right to get jobs and adequate income, while state and private companies have an obligation to give equal treatment by employing them in accordance with their condition and competence," Erman said.
Jakarta Post - March 3, 2007
Ridwan Max Sijabat, Jakarta Despite increasing pressure from civil groups, minority parties and regional representatives, the major political parties continue to resist amending the Constitution, saying it would cause public confusion.
The Golkar Party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle and the United Development Party (PPP), which constitute 396 of the 778 seats in the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR), said on Friday that now was not the right time to amend the Constitution and that there were no major political or emergency reasons to do so.
The parties instead called on the Assembly to campaign for the four amendments made to the Constitution between 1999 and 2002 to let the people see their affects on the political system and social welfares.
"There is no urgency for MPR to make a new amendment to the Constitution when all the changes made in the past have not been fully implemented," Andi Mattalata, chairman of the Golkar faction at the House of Representatives, said in a discussion on Friday.
The National Awakening Party, The Prosperous Justice Party and Reform Star Party have recently joined forces with the Regional Representatives Council (DPD) to call on the MPR to amend the constitution to give the council full legislative rights and empower the two-room parliament system. The Assembly is a joint session of the House and the Council.
PDIP secretary general Pramono Anung Wibowo called on the 128- member DPD to do their jobs as mandated by the amended Constitution while parties were seeking a comprehensive reason to revise the amendments made to the Constitution in the past.
"The nation could not implement the reform agenda at once and the repair of the Constitution should be conducted gradually while evaluating its implementation," he said.
An alliance of political analysts and activists has also recently called on the MPR for a fifth amendment as the current Constitution gives political parties a monopoly in political recruitment, either through general elections and political selection, or the "fit and proper" tests conducted by the House.
According to the alliance, the parties' monopoly must be phased out by allowing independent candidates to contend presidential elections and local polls. The DPD should also be given more power in making laws to ensure a check and balance in the legislature, it says.
PPP deputy chairman Chozin Chumaidy said his party was aware of the DPD's political role in channeling regional interests and making legislation but it was not the right time to amend the Constitution because the DPD's problems could be settled by revising the law on the composition of legislature bodies.
"The PPP has no fear that the House will lose its legislative rights because any law made by the House and the DPD will benefit the public," he said.
Jakarta Post - March 3, 2007
Ridwan Max Sijabat, Jakarta Political parties continue to argue over the establishment of an ad hoc court to try the shooting of students in Jakarta in 1998 and 1999.
The Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP) and the United Development Party (PPP) have pushed the House of Representatives to recommend President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono set up ad hoc trials for the Trisakti and Semanggi shootings. The Golkar Party, however, has opposed the trial, saying that the House's 2004 investigation in the shootings renders a new trial irrelevant.
The March 15 plenary session at the house will decide whether to recommend the President issue a decree establishing the ad hoc court.
PDIP legislator Yasonna H. Laoly said the incidents were a "huge debt" that the political parties had to pay back to the reform movement and its fighters, especially students.
"The plenary session will be a test case to show whether political parties are committed to settling this unresolved, huge debt, including the abduction of 17 democracy activists in 1997," he told The Jakarta Post on Friday.
A recent House leadership meeting decided to take the issue to a plenary session instead of delivering a letter to the President asking for the ad hoc court to be established.
The law commission had previously recommended the President issue a decree to set up the court, following the Attorney General Adbul Rahman Saleh's refusal to investigate the shootings, which the National Human Rights Commission has described as "gross human rights crimes".
PPP national executive board deputy chairman Chozin Chumaidy said his party had asked its members at the House to remain consistent with the political stance taken by its legislators in the law commission.
"With no intention of discrediting the Indonesian Military, the three tragedies must be investigated thoroughly. Active and retired Army generals implicated in the cases must be brought to court," he said. "We want the relatives to see justice for the students killed during the incidents."
Golkar faction chairman Andi Matalatta said the party was skeptical because the three cases had already been tried and the House investigation had found no evidence of gross human rights violations.
"The government will face political hindrances to set up an ad hoc trial because the 2000 law on Ad Hoc Courts is not retroactive," he said.
Andi said that the 1998 shooting of students in Semanggi could not be classified as a human rights abuse because the students had staged a demonstration to oppose a special session of the People's Consultative Assembly and the Trisakti incident had been tried by the West Jakarta District Court, which had convicted all the soldiers involved in the shooting.
|War on terror|
Sydney Morning Herald - March 7, 2007
Mark Forbes, Jakarta The Indonesian cleric Abu Bakar Bashir leads the Jemaah Islamiah terrorist network and inspire its operatives, despite being cleared of terrorism charges and being released, says the Foreign Affairs Minister, Alexander Downer.
Mr Downer also told a ministerial counter-terrorism summit in Jakarta yesterday that the region had been more successful in fighting terrorism than any other area in the world.
But Jemaah Islamiah remained the biggest local threat, adopting increasingly sophisticated tactics aimed to "plunge nations into antiquity" by establishing Islamic law across the region, he said.
Mr Downer refused to criticise Indonesia for allowing Mr Bashir to promote extremism and failing to ban JI. The cleric was released last year by the courts, not the Government, he said.
Mr Bashir was the leader of "the Jemaah Islamiah terrorist group", Mr Downer told the summit, co-hosted by Australia and Indonesia. "I do think they pay attention to him. He's certainly been the spiritual leader of JI over a long period. I think inspiration is still drawn from him. I don't think he is sitting around and plotting the blowing up of buildings ... he's the leading propagator of a particular ideology."
Indonesia had done "an extraordinary job in countering terrorism" and combating the extremist views advanced by Mr Bashir, Mr Downer said.
Regional co-operation against terrorism, prompted by the 2002 Bali bombing, had made significant progress. "Our region has had more success than any other in fighting terrorists," he said.
Mr Bashir wanted to impose a Taliban-style regime, Mr Downer said. It would ban football, mobile phones, television and blow up Buddhist temples.
Mr Downer praised the focus on education in combating terrorism. Nations should work together to reject extremist ideology and undermine terrorist propaganda. Jakarta was the best example of combating the terrorist threat.
The Indonesian Foreign Minister, Hassan Wirayuda, said he did not know if Mr Bashir's speeches were inciting violence, but that his radicalism was best countered with dialogue. It was difficult to ban JI because it was not a formal organisation, he said.
Reuters - March 5, 2007
Ahmad Pathoni, Jakarta Militant groups are devising new strategies to prevail as countries cooperate more closely, keeping victory against terrorism out of reach, Indonesia's Foreign Minister said on Monday.
"While we have been enhancing our cooperation and enlarging our capabilities in the fight against terrorism, the terrorists are also making their own adjustments," Hassan Wirajuda told a ministerial security meeting in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta.
"We must continue to enhance the format of the dialogues we are holding to counter the clever and seductive propaganda of the terrorists. We must devise more effective ways of denying the terrorists access to deadly weapons."
Wirajuda did not spell out what the new tactics were, but experts say militants have found smarter ways to cross borders and battered groups seek to win popular support through charity and involvement in sectarian violence.
The two-day conference was chaired by Indonesia and Australia, which have worked closely ever since Muslim militants bombed nightclubs on Indonesia's resort island of Bali in 2002.
Australians were the largest group that was killed in those attacks that left more than 200 dead, mostly foreign tourists. The four other participating countries were Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines.
Warning against complacency
The 2002 bombings have been blamed on Southeast Asian militant network Jemaah Islamiah (JI). Regional authorities believe it was also behind more recent major bombings.
For the first time since 2000, Indonesia went a whole year in 2006 without a large-scale terror attack. However, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer warned against complacency.
"They continue to find support, they continue to make bombs and they continue to recruit operatives to carry out their attacks," he told the conference.
Downer said Muslim extremists like JI seek a world that bans "all forms of entertainment and all trappings of modernity. We need to work together to prevent this kind of society, to reject this extremist ideology," he said.
The meeting is a follow-up to a similar 2004 conference that produced the so-called Bali Counter-Terrorism Process. That included coordination in countering terrorist financing, investigations, prosecutions and intelligence-sharing.
The cooperation has led to the prosecution of hundreds of militants in Indonesia, the killing of JI's alleged top bombmaker and the establishment of a regional counter-terrorism training center for law enforcement officers.
Border control, a headache for Southeast Asian governments given the region's history, shared language, and hard-to-defend sea borders, would be a key discussion topic in the meeting, officials said.
The six nations believe JI is bent on creating an Islamic state across their territories through a campaign of violence.
Around 85 percent of Indonesia's 220 million people follow Islam, making it the world's largest Muslim population. Most Indonesian Muslims are moderates but there is a radical fringe that has been increasingly vocal and media-savvy.
Reuters - March 8, 2007
Jalil Hamid, Bukit Tinggi Living in a squalid tent following earthquakes in Indonesia's Sumatra, Seri Hartati says she may be forced to beg to feed her five children with no signs of financial help from the government.
Anger has turned to despair for some survivors of this week's quakes in West Sumatra province, many of whom were huddled in crowded tents with little food and few amenities.
They were also uncertain about their future after the quakes left them without jobs or money.
"I have no house, my husband is jobless and I have to feed my five children," said 45-year-old Hartati, one of 100 survivors packed in a tent about the size of a basketball court. "I may have to rely on handouts. We have no savings," she said, holding one of her small children.
West Sumatra was hit by a 6.4 magnitude quake and another measuring 6.3 on Tuesday that badly damaged 4,000 buildings and left thousands homeless.
An official at the National Coordinating Agency for Disaster Management in Jakarta said on Friday the quakes killed 72 people and seriously injured 504.
No blankets or toilets
Hartati's aged parents, her brother, her sister-in-law and their six-month-old baby boy are also taking shelter under the blue tent. Her father, a 69-year-old former soldier named Ripo, suffers from a heart problem and asthma.
Wearing an overcoat, Ripo, who like many Indonesians uses one name, said the government did not even supply blankets to them. "There are also no toilets here, but there's electricity. And it gets chilly here at night."
Outside the tent on Thursday evening, some women were cooking dinner a simple meal of plain rice and instant noodles.
The victims' houses, many sitting on the edge of a cliff, had cracks in the walls. Some have been declared unsafe by the authorities.
At another evacuation center in Bukit Tinggi, one of the hardest-hit towns, survivors said some supplies meant for them may have been diverted elsewhere.
"We received just two boxes of noodles today, hardly enough to feed 50 people here," said a 52-year-old laborer named Pian. "We have not seen any infant milk, diapers and blankets."
At night, they sleep on straw mats on a badminton court covered by an orange tent. "I have no money since there's no work since the quake and yesterday we had to bury my five-year-old nephew who died in the disaster."
Others said no doctors had visited them. "There have been several cases of fever, flu and cough among the children," said one elderly woman at a center housing some 50 children, many of them running around with bare feet. "No one has been immunized," she said.
Some survivors attended Friday prayers at a damaged mosque in the heart of Bukit Tinggi. "This is a wake-up call for us that we have no choice but to follow Allah's teachings and avoid committing sins," the imam told some 500 Muslims gathered in the blistering midday sun.
At the town's main bazaar, where three people were killed and scores injured by falling debris caused by the quake, shopkeepers pondered their future.
"It's hard to continue here. The electricity supply is unstable," said one 50-year-old businesswoman, who declined to be identified.
"I won't return here," a 56-year-old barber said as he smoked a kretek (clove) cigarette. "I need to raise 15 to 20 million rupiah ($1,600 to $2,200) to start a new business, a big sum for me."
Agence France Presse - March 6, 2007
Sunil Jagtiani, Jakarta A powerful earthquake struck the Indonesian island of Sumatra on Tuesday, killing at least 70 people, flattening buildings and sparking panic in the streets of Malaysia and Singapore.
Officials said the death toll was expected to rise in the latest catastrophe to hit the beleaguered nation, and hospitals were quickly overwhelmed with the rush of wounded. Many people were feared to be trapped under rubble.
Communication was cut off with much of the area close to the epicentre of the 6.3-magnitude quake so there was no immediate way of knowing the extent of the damage there, they said.
But elsewhere doctors were forced to set up shop outdoors, running drips for the injured and working in hastily erected tents. Television showed staff at the main hospital in Padang city scrambling in chaos to cope with the wounded.
"So far 70 people were reported dead in various places and scores injured," said Sudi Silalahi, a spokesman for President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
He said the president may go to the disaster site and had ordered police, military, local authorities and government ministers to coordinate to do all they could to bring relief to the stricken areas.
Officials said many people had broken bones and open wounds, and some had suffered head injuries.
"There are hundreds of victims," the mayor of Solok, a rice- farming area of about 50,000 people close to the epicentre, told ElShinta radio. "We have asked for medical help," said the mayor, Samsurahim, who goes by one name. "Our facilities here are insufficient."
The quake struck at 10:49 am (0349 GMT), the US Geological Survey said, 49 kilometres (30 miles) northeast of Padang, the capital of West Sumatra.
Many people were trapped in collapsed buildings and there was no official information about the situation at the quake's epicentre because phone lines were down, Utjin Sudiana, West Sumatra's police chief, told AFP.
"The epicentre is in Batusangkar but communication is disconnected from there so we don't know what the damage is," he said. The town is about 50 kilometres from Padang.
The devastating Asian tsunami in 2004 was set off by a massive earthquake off the coast of Sumatra, and Tuesday's quake sparked a panic on the Indonesian island and across the region.
In Singapore, which is rarely hit by quakes, hundreds of people cleared out of their office skyscrapers and raced into the streets some of them weeping and screaming when the ground started to tremble.
"We grabbed our bags and just evacuated," office worker Nicholas Wong told local radio. "Everyone was panicking. One of my colleagues was crying because she had never felt such an effect before."
But there were no reports of any damage in the city-state or in Malaysia, where the quake was also felt.
Indonesia, an archipelago of some 17,000 islands, sits on the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire, where continental plates meet and where earthquakes are a regular and often deadly occurrence.
Indonesia was the nation worst hit by the earthquake-triggered Indian Ocean tsunami in December 2004, which killed some 168,000 people in Aceh province on the northern tip of Sumatra.
Some 5,800 people were killed and 33,000 others injured in a massive quake that rocked Java island in May last year. Two months later, another quake on Java killed more than 600.
Jakarta Post - March 6, 2007
Alvin Darlanika Soedarjo, Jakarta Transportation analyst Agus Pambagyo said Monday that the personnel changes being made at the Transportation Ministry were "meaningless" and without a "structural overhaul" there could be another transportation disaster.
"I see no significant adjustments (being made) in the Transportation Ministry and there will be no good effect from that," Agus told The Jakarta Post on Monday. The ministry is replacing twenty senior officials.
Agus said that fresh employees, not people coming from other positions at the ministry, were necessary for a significant change to be made.
"It's a matter of whether they want to create positive changes in the system or not. So far they have failed to do so. Better law enforcement for 'not performing' officials would also have a good effect," Agus said.
"If there is no structural change that can improve safety, then I'm afraid many insurance companies will not be eager to deal with our operators anymore due to the high accident rate."
On Monday evening, Transportation Minister Hatta Rajasa announced at his office the placement of several new officials.
"The people and I are hoping for a change. There has to be a clear indicator and change in the transportation sector. These (officials) should be able to reduce transportation accidents," Hatta said.
"The implementation of regulations is not an easy feat, but I'm sure that we can do it. We will punish those operators that don't comply," he said.
Hatta said that the change in ministry officials was unrelated to the multitude of transportation accidents the country has seen in the last two months. He added that the ministry would take the criticism if it had acted wrongly.
National Transportation Safety Commission head Setio Raharjo has been replaced by Rear Marshal (ret) Tatang Kurniadi. The commission is in charge of investigating air, land and sea transportation accidents.
At the Air Transportation Directorate General, Tri Suriadjie Sunoko was named air transport director, while Iing Iskandar was named aviation safety director. Herry Bakti S. Gumay is the new administrator of Soekarno-Hatta Airport.
The Sea Transportation Directorate General has a new sea transportation traffic director in the form of Capt. Djoni A. Algamar, while Capt. Bobby R. Mamahit was named Tanjung Priok Port administrator.
Jakarta Post - March 5, 2007
Jakarta President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has ended his policy of silence, responding to widespread criticism of his government's policies and strategies.
Addressing the closure of the national conference of Democrat Party legislators in Jakarta on Sunday, Yudhoyono said he was listening to criticism, but would focus his attention on settling state problems.
"I've been traveling across the archipelago to make sure that government officials do their job, to hold dialog with the people and identify their problems, and settle all solvable problems," the Antara newswire quoted him as saying to meeting participants.
"If some people label what I've been doing as merely permeating my individual charm, that's okay with me. That's the art of politics that we have to endure. We should consider all the criticism as positive input that will make us work better and harder," the President said.
Yudhoyono did not refer to any critics by name, but many believed that he was referring to the accusation made by former president Megawati Soekarnoputri.
He dismissed charges that he did not seek first-hand consultation with Indonesians on what they wanted, citing cheap education and affordable medical services as examples that his government had responded to people's wishes.
Yudhoyono, who also chairs the party's Board of Patrons, also called on the whole nation to help improve the availability and affordability of food, particularly the national staple of rice.
"My standpoint is clear. The price of rice must be affordable for people, otherwise they cannot buy it. It must also be appropriate, stable and beneficial for the farmers," he said.
The President also called for an increase in domestic rice production in line with the nation's annual 1.3-percent population growth. "We must maintain the secured availability of rice supply. If we produce more rice than market demand, we can export it."
The President also told the party's meeting that the government has been successful in settling 11 major national problems. They were solving the prolonged Aceh conflict, achieving security in Papua, dealing with human rights violations in the former province of East Timor, fixing the unsound state budget, ending the US embargo on the Indonesian military, paying off IMF debts, solving a major dispute at shrimp pond company PT Dipasena, ending the Cepu oil block, and dealing with the Cemex arbitration, the Karaha Bodas dispute and the PT Texmaco feud.
Yudhoyono did, however, admit that major national problems, particularly poverty and unemployment, remained to be solved.
|War on corruption|
Jakarta Post - March 8, 2007
Jayapura A student activist said Wednesday the establishment of autonomous regencies and provinces in Papua is designed to serve the interests of the political elite, and will lead to more corruption.
"Autonomous regions will only enrich a certain group of people and allow for greater corruption," the head of the Indonesian Central Papua Highland Alliance, Markus Haluk, told a crowd of 200 students at the Papua gubernatorial office.
According to Markus, the political elite and government officials are the ones who favor the creation of more autonomous regions.
"Some push for the creation of an autonomous region after losing elections, some after being denied government positions and others because their terms in office are about to end. There are also those people who eye the natural wealth of an area and work together with investors to fund campaigns for an autonomous region, as well as those involved in corruption who are trying to run away by forming an autonomous regency," said Markus.
He added that the creation of autonomous regions would also lead to human rights violations and environmental destruction by investors exploiting an area's natural wealth.
Six areas in Papua have so far petitioned the central government for autonomous status.
Jakarta Post - March 8, 2007
Alvin Darlanika Soedarjo, Jakarta Attorney General Abdul Rahman Saleh on Wednesday dismissed claims by a Cabinet minister that his office had assured a French bank that money held there by Tommy Soeharto was corruption-free.
Justice and Human Rights Minister Hamid Awaluddin has said the AGO issued the recommendation about Tommy's money to the Bank Nationale de Paris (BNP) Paribas branch in London, before the bank released US$10 million of the money.
Tommy, whose full name is Hutomo Mandala Putra, is the son of former dictator Soeharto.
"I have checked with the Deputy Attorney General for State Administrative Cases at the time of the withdrawal. There was no letter of recommendation issued at the time," the Attorney General told reporters at his office.
"We did not issue any letter to Hidayat Achyar," he said, referring to a lawyer for Tommy who works for the Ihza and Ihza law firm, which is run by State Secretary Yusril Ihza Mahendra.
Tommy hired Ihza and Ihza to withdraw US$10 million from BNP Paribas in London in 2004. Paribas asked for a recommendation that the money was legitimate before releasing it.
"Please bear in mind that the Attorney General's Office (AGO) is involved in the trial of a dispute between Tommy and the BNP Paribas branch in Guernsey. Meanwhile, the issue of the letter of recommendation is over a different case with a BNP Paribas branch in London," he said, underlining that the two cases occurred in two different countries with different legal systems.
A company called Motorbike, which succeeded in securing the $10 million, is involved in a legal dispute with BNP Paribas London, while Garnet Investment Ltd. is suing BNP Paribas Guernsey. Both Motorbike and Garnet, which are based overseas, are owned by Tommy.
"The (recommendation) case was with Motorbike while our problem now is with Garnet," Abdul Rahman said.
Garnet had asked the BNP Paribas branch in Guernsey to make 36 million euros available to Tommy from one of his accounts. When the bank refused three times, Garnet decided to take it to court in March 2006.
The AGO was invited to be a third party in the Garnet vs. Paribas Guernsey trial. The AGO is claiming the funds belong to the Indonesian government because they were obtained through graft in Tommy's various business.
Abdul Rahman said he had contacted Justice Minister Hamid Awaluddin to check whether he had approved the transfer to Motorbike.
Hamid, who acknowledged that Tommy's funds were transferred by way of a justice ministry account, told the Attorney General that the money had been verified as clean by the Financial Transaction and Report Analysis Center (PPATK).
The analysis center, however, denied this. PPATK head Yunus Husein said he did not issue a letter to smooth the fund transfer. "The (justice ministry) only asked us for information regarding the Motorbike corporation. There was nothing about the company in our database," Yunus said.
Since Motorbike is based in the Bahamas, the justice ministry would have had to verify its status outside the country, he added.
Yunus said he was asked by then Director General of General Legal Administration (AHU) Zulkarnain Yunus to release information that Motorbike was clear from any money laundering allegations.
"They said that the information was needed for 'good governance' reasons," he said, adding that he only wrote a short letter in response to Yunus' request.
Jakarta Post - March 5, 2007
The Supreme Audit Agency (BPK) head Anwar Nasution revealed Saturday that the agency had found 1,303 personal bank accounts and fixed deposits belonging to government officials containing state money last year.
"Those accounts totaled Rp 8.54 trillion (US$930 million) (and) were found in various banks," Anwar told a gathering of postgraduate students at Tanjung Pura University in Pontianak, West Kalimantan.
He said that in 2005 the agency managed to secure Rp 3 trillion out of Rp 20.44 trillion it found in 957 accounts belonging to government officials.
The BPK has asked the government to clarify the status of all the accounts currently under examination.
In its effort to combat graft in 2005, the BPK reported 10 cases of alleged corruption to the House of Representatives, the National Police and prosecutors from the Attorney General's Office (AGO). The amount involved in all the cases was estimated to total Rp 2.9 trillion.
The total indication of state losses found by BPK in 2005 was Rp 13.82 trillion.
The total indication of state losses for the first semester of 2006 ballooned out to Rp 19.24 trillion.
That total comprised Rp 16.05 trillion from the central government, Rp 1.86 trillion from local governments and Rp 1.32 trillion from state-owned companies.
Jakarta Post - March 3, 2007
Pandaya, Jakarta In December 2005, Taufiequrrachman Ruki, a retired police general turned graft-buster, got sentimental while addressing the second-anniversary celebrations of the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), which he leads.
In a speech titled The Anticorruption Drive, a Lonely War in the Jungle of Suspicion, in front of the nation's top law enforcers, he said that the war on corruption was receiving only lukewarm support from the authorities who were supposed to back it.
KPK personnel, he said, were subject to slander, suspicion and counterattacks.
"People will support the anti-graft crusade only if the gun is not aimed at them. People will launch a counterattack when and if they, their interests and or their clique are targeted."
The latest developments prove Ruki right. His daring move to confront State Secretary Yusril Ihza Mahendra over an alleged Rp 6 billion (about US$660,000) instance of corruption at the Justice and Human Rights Ministry, which Yusril led during the previous administration, has met with fierce resistance. Yusril has sought a legal showdown with Ruki, whom he has in turn accused of breaking a 2003 presidential decree requiring that any state project worth Rp 50 million (US$5,500) or more be put out to bid.
The KPK has been investigating Yusril's former senior aides and has detained project manager Aji Affendi; Secretary General Zulkarnain Yunus; and Erman Rachman, the president director of PT Sentral Filindo, to which the ministry awarded a 2004 contract to provide Rp 18.8 billion worth of fingerprint devices. The KPK has focused on why the project was awarded without the required tender, and on allegations of price-inflating as well as kickbacks to ministry officials totaling Rp 375 million.
Yusril, a professor in constitutional law at Muhammadiyah University, lost his temper when the KPK summoned him for questioning as a witness on Feb. 15, after his ex-staffers reportedly claimed they were acting on his orders. Although he acknowledged that he personally approved the direct appointment of the contractor, he argued the presidential decree allows such appointments in cases of extreme urgency.
The following day, Yusril met with KPK investigators to demand that they question Ruki for allegedly awarding a wire tapping project to a company without a bid the same offense that landed Yusril in hot water.
Then came the twist. KPK spokesman Johan Budi said the Rp 34 billion wire tapping contract was legal because the direct appointment was approved by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. In fact, Johan said, the document was signed by Yusril on the President's behalf, while the fingerprint device project did not have such a permit.
The presidential decree allows direct appointment for the provision of objects classified as state secrets, and wire tapping equipment falls under this category.
The Yusril-Ruki discord seemed to have subsided after Yudhoyono intervened on Monday, inviting both in a cabinet meeting to settle the animosity in a "customary manner", a euphemism for amicable conflict resolution.
The President, who will do anything to maintain his stature as a typically Javanese "wise" leader, said that awarding projects without tender as Yusril and Ruki did could be right so long as it inflicted no financial losses on the state.
He insisted he would continue with his anticorruption drive but would make sure that the campaign would not cause excessive fear among bureaucrats.
Yudhoyono's intervention was clearly an anticlimax to the high profile Yusril-Ruki affair. It had been widely expected that the conflict would be solved in court.
Yusril, a former chairman of the tiny Islamic-based Crescent Star Party (PBB), has occupied top political positions under four presidents since 1999. He has vowed to keep on fighting. In its corner, the KPK has said it is not fazed by Yusril's counterattack and has vowed to continue probing the alleged corruption.
It's of course difficult to see where the bitter conflict will lead, but one thing is sure: Yusril's confrontational maneuver is giving credence to skeptics' doubts about the Yudhoyono administration's commitment to fighting graft.
How can the administration expect the public to take seriously his promise to uproot corruption when the campaign meets fierce resistance from within his own office?
The bickering could endanger an anticorruption campaign that has reflected well on Yudhoyono.
Could it be that Yusril is exploiting Yudhoyono's apparent reluctance to act assertively against aides embroiled in scandals? The President has been silent amid the public outcry over the East Java mud disaster involving a company controlled by Coordinating Minister for the People's Welfare Aburizal Bakrie.
Just recently, he ignored the public demand to fire Religious Affairs Minister Maftuh Basyuni after 200,000 Indonesian haj pilgrims were left without food for 30 hours in Saudi Arabia in December. He also turns a deaf ear to calls for dismissal of Transportation Minister Hatta Radjasa following a string of deadly transportation accidents.
Ruki, who, like Yusril, answers to the President, was only doing his job of cleaning up corruption in the bureaucracy when he summoned the state secretary for questioning.
Anyone wanting a corruption-free Indonesia must fear that the KPK will buckle under Yusril's pressure and the anti-graft campaign will suffer a serious setback. This is the right time to support the anticorruption movement and not leave the KPK fighting a lonely war in the jungle.
Jakarta Post - March 1, 2007
Ridwan Max Sijabat, Jakarta The law commission at the House of Representatives asked the Anti-Corruption Commission (KPK) to take over unresolved corruption cases from the National Police and the Attorney General's Office.
The request was part of a conclusion made at the end of a three- day hearing at the commission. It was a similar conclusion to one made during a hearing last month, law commission chairman Trimedya Panjaitan, who presided over the meeting, said.
During its three-day hearing, the commission focused much of its attention on unresolved corruption cases in the country.
Several commission members cited the graft case at state power company PLN, saying that if police cannot submit the case to the Attorney General's Office within two weeks, the KPK should take over the case, in which PLN president Eddie Widiono is allegedly involved.
"The PLN corruption case should be a priority of the KPK because the police and the Attorney General's Office have been involved in a prolonged conflict over the case," said Almuzamil Yusuf, deputy chairman of the law commission.
National Police chief Gen. Sutanto told the commission last week that police needed one week to complete their investigation into the case.
Pataniari Siahaan of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) went further, suggesting the law commission establish a working committee to carry out investigations into unresolved corruption cases if the KPK made no significant progress, should it be given authority to handle cases.
Panda Nababan, also of PDI-P, challenged the KPK to take over not only the PLN corruption case, but many other unresolved cases.
"The KPK should take over investigations into 19 major corruption cases that the National Police and the Attorney General's Office are yet to resolve. These cases, which have caused trillions of rupiah in losses to the state, have been investigated for years but no progress has been made," he said.
He cited the unresolved investigation into irregularities concerning Bank Indonesia liquidity support funds and the construction project of Attorney General Abdul Rahman Saleh's official residence. He also cited corruption cases allegedly involving a number of businesspeople and former officials in the mining and forestry sectors, state-owned companies, IPTN, Garuda Indonesia, Pertamina, PT Taspen and Perumnas.
Meanwhile, deputy chairman of the KPK, Tumpak Hatorangan Panggabean, said the KPK had been supervising an investigation into 32 corruption cases being handled by the police and the Attorney General's Office.
"We will take over these cases if no progress is made and we will increase our supervision on the handling of major corruption cases regardless of the suspects' political background and position," he said.
The law commission also urged the KPK to look into the procurement of goods and services in state institutions to give the executive body a recommendation on how a 2003 Presidential Decree should be reviewed to avoid misinterpretations in its implementation.
Jakarta Post - March 8, 2007
Soeryo Winoto, Jakarta It was quite a shock to learn Saturday of a minister's desire to have the political satire News Dot Com, or Republik Mimpi (Republic of Dreams) as it is otherwise known, withdrawn from television.
Information and Communications Minister Sofyan Djalil has accused the program, aired Sundays on Metro TV, of providing a negative political education.
The wizard behind the show, Effendy Gazali, said he was unaware of any complaints from those impersonated in she show, including President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. The communications expert said the minister should pay more attention to television shows that are the true purveyors of bad taste, such as those that promote violence and supernatural themes.
Republik Mimpi is led by a fictitious president known as SBY (Si Butet Yogya), a name taken from the actor's name Butet Kartarajasa. SBY are also the famous initials of Indonesia's current president.
The parody features several figures impersonating Vice President Jusuf Kalla, former presidents Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid, B.J. Habibie, Megawati Soekarnoputri and Suharto and Governor Sutiyoso. Topics discussed during the show relate to contemporary issues in Indonesia, which is referred to as "our neighboring country".
Whether or not the parody provides a negative political education is debatable. Before commenting, however, Sofyan should have looked at the actions of his fellow politicians from the House of Representatives or the regional council. Do their actions always provide a healthy political education to the public?
For example, is a negative political education not evident in the actions of politicians who travel abroad claiming to be conducting comparative studies or in the violent protests of the supporters of political candidates who fail to win elections? Such events regularly appear on television.
Images and programs broadcast on television every day disseminate messages about violence and improper behavior. Late last year public pressure contributed to the controversial TV program WWF:Smack Down being axed due to its violent content. However, other programs providing questionable moral guidance including sinetron (local soap operas) and unrealistic programs on the supernatural continue to be broadcast. Producers of programs with supernatural content may argue that they are encouraging people to believe in God. In reality they are pointing the public to the unrealistic world of mysticism.
Has Sofyan ever held an open discussion to voice his concerns about these programs? In this era of reform, is it really wrong to express political views and discuss controversial policies in a fun comedy?
Satirical TV shows such as Republik Mimpi are yet to inspire unrest or violence in the country. While some people use seminars or rallies as a forum to convey public disappointment, artists like musicians and poets use mediums such as music and poetry to express their dissatisfaction toward the government. Even politicians have the House of Representatives to express their opinions.
Sofyan's calls to have Republik Mimpi withdrawn from television are only proving to the nation that he emulates the New Order regime, which had a poor sense of humor and preferred using power to resolve even the most trivial of matters.
It seems the minister's complaints about Republik Mimpi are nothing more than a kind of political paranoia. Whether or not he likes the show is another question.
It would be more productive for the minister to dedicate his skills and expertise to more useful pursuits such as helping people emerge from hardships, rather than sparking unnecessary controversy. After all, humor is an integral part of our lives.
[The author is a staff writer at The Jakarta Post.]
Jakarta Post - March 5, 2007
Jakarta Groundbreaking political satire Republik Mimpi (Republic of Dreams) says it will remain on the air despite a threat by Information and Communications Minister Sofyan A. Djalil to file a complaint with the Broadcasting Commission over the Sunday evening television program.
"In response to the minister's plan, the team has decided to continue airing the program," Effendi Ghazali, the brains behind Republik Mimpi, which runs on Metro TV, told The Jakarta Post on Sunday. He said that even in monarchies, such television shows were allowed.
"The idea that people in the United Kingdom have never portrayed royals in a satirical manner is wrong. We know that the well- known comedy Mr. Bean often jokingly depicts Queen Elizabeth II," he told the Post.
Effendi said that while Republik Mimpi, which features impersonations of current and former presidents and government officials, would continue to air, there would be some changes.
"For this Sunday night's show, the president of Republik Mimpi will enact a presidential decree which moves the country from a presidential state to a monarchy," he said.
Effendi said all of the actors who impersonate current and former presidents would remain the same, with the exception of a new actor to play former president Megawati Soekarnoputri, Megawanti, "who is more concerned with public issues than the current character of Megakarti".
The program has drawn protests from Minister Sofyan, who said it humiliates government institutions and provides a "negative political education" for the people.
He earlier said that, in his role as a citizen, he would file a complaint against Republik Mimpi with the Broadcasting Commission, in the hope of having the satire pulled from the air.
According to Sofyan, the president, who symbolizes the country's authority, must be respected.
The cigarette company that was the show's main sponsor terminated its contract Wednesday, amid speculation that the move was made after receiving political pressure.
Some observers have criticized Sofyan for his attack on the show and his threat to have it taken off the air.
"It's OK to criticize the press when it is unprofessional, but the minister's plan is outrageously shameful," Agus Sudibyo, a member of the Press and Broadcasting Coalition, told the Post.
Agus and Ade Armando, a communications expert at the University of Indonesia in Jakarta, agreed that the ruling government has given off worrying signs that it could move toward an active suppression of press freedom.
"The minister's plan is a violation of press freedom, which the government should respect.
"In a democracy, guaranteeing press freedom is as important as preserving the government's image," Agus told the Post.
Legislator Djoko Susilo of the National Mandate Party warned that Sofyan was in danger of turning his ministry into another New Order-era information ministry, which actively shut down media outlets that were critical of the government.
The minister, he said, should criticize pornography and supernatural television programs, as well as soap operas, instead of worrying about Republik Mimpi.
Former presidents Abdurrahman Wahid, Megawati Soekarnoputri and Soeharto, represented by his family, have all sent their support for the continued airing of the program, according to Effendi.
Vice President Jusuf Kalla has also endorsed Republik Mimpi, he said.
Jakarta Post - March 3, 2007
M. Taufiqurrahman, Jakarta Members of the groundbreaking political satire Republik Mimpi (Republic of Dreams) defended themselves Friday from government efforts to pull the plug on the TV show.
Effendi Gazali, the brains behind Republik Mimpi, which is aired on Metro TV, dismissed accusations by Information and Communications Minister Sofyan Djalil that the show represented a "negative political education" for people.
"None of the current and former leaders that we lampoon have ever said that they dislike it," Effendi told The Jakarta Post.
He added that the family of former president Soeharto said they were bemused by the show, and that former president Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid openly supported the show. Effendi also pointed out that the comics who portray former presidents B.J. Habibie and Megawati Soekarnoputri have appeared on other shows.
"So what's the fuss? Why doesn't the minister take care of television shows that promote violence and the supernatural, which are the true purveyors of bad taste," Effendi said.
Sofyan said he would likely file a complaint against Republik Mimpi, which features actors humorously portraying current and former leaders.
He told reporters on the sidelines of a meeting with lawmakers that although his ministry could not ban the show outright, he still planned to file a complaint with the country's broadcasting body.
This is the second time a political satire has run foul of the authorities.
In June last year, Republik Benar Benar Mabuk (Drunken Republic) was taken off the air by television station Indosiar after complaints from government officials, who disliked the depiction of a fictitious president and vice president who resembled President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Vice President Jusuf Kalla.
Republik Mimpi's troubles began last month when a group of people claiming to represent the ethnic Chinese community complained that the show was "unethical".
Earlier this week, the cigarette company that was the show's main sponsor severed its contract. There has been speculation the company ended its relationship with Republik Mimpi after high- level political pressure.
Butet Kartaredjasa, the actor who portrays both Soeharto and Yudhoyono, said the show did not aim to embarrass political leaders. "It's just like a cartoon strip in the newspaper," he was quoted as saying by Antara news agency.
Communications expert Ade Armando of the University of Indonesia said the current administration has given off worrying signs that it could move toward an active suppression of press freedom.
"At its outset, the New Order regime was also friendly toward the media. But as time went by, it began to show its true colors and started to stifle the press. We don't want this to happen again," Ade told the Post.
Agence France Presse - March 1, 2007
Palu Four people were killed and another 25 injured in clashes between police and protesters in Indonesia, police have said. Some of those killed had been shot dead, senior policeman M. Nazli said.
The clashes occurred Wednesday in Banggai, the main town on an island with the same name, on the third day of street protests against a plan to strip it of its status as a district capital in favour of another town.
Thirteen protesters suffered gunshot wounds, while 10 police officers and two soldiers were injured by stones thrown by the demonstrators, Nazli said.
The protesters used planks to seal shut 15 government offices, Nazli said, paralysing the administration in Banggai, in Central Sulawesi province. Sisno Adiwinoto, a police spokesman, said the protesters also destroyed a police post.
Nazli said Banggai was calm Thursday and "there are no mass concentrations" of people in the town. He added the police had no plans to break open the government offices and would leave the matter to local people.
The Banggai islands lie some 400 kilometres (250 miles) east of Palu, the capital of Central Sulawesi province.
Jakarta Post - March 1, 2007
Ruslan Sangadji, Palu Five people were reportedly killed and dozens of others injured Wednesday during a clash with security personnel in Banggai Islands regency, Central Sulawesi.
Resident Iwan Bua said he saw five bodies following the violent clash.
"I saw five people dead. They were Junaid, Ridwan, Aba, Ardan and another one still unidentified," he told The Jakarta Post by phone from the regency, some 800 kilometers from the provincial capital Palu.
However, the head of the United Banggai People's Mondupulian Forum, Achmad Huluan, denied five people died in the incident. "From our information, only two people died. They were Junaid, 36, and Ridwan, 22."
The clash was reportedly triggered when residents protested a decision to move the regency capital from Banggai to Salakan Island. During the protest, residents sealed off government offices, preventing employees from getting to work.
Central Sulawesi Police chief Brig. Gen. Badrodin Haiti said he had not received any information on possible fatalities during the incident.
He did receive a report that some 500 residents protested at the Banggai Police office, forcing their way into the office while carrying sharp weapons.
"Since they were carrying weapons, my personnel fired warning shots into the air to disperse them. It's not true that residents were shot and killed by the police," Badrodin said.
Achmad alleged police officers physically assaulted several of the protesters, including Junaid, who he said died at the hospital from injuries he received in the assault.
Badrodin said extra police officers had been deployed to the area, but did not provide exact numbers. "If the protesters refuse to disperse, we will disperse them by force," he said.
Central Sulawesi Governor Bandjela Paliudju earlier ordered provincial secretary Gumyadi to the regency to explain the reasons behind the change of regency capital.
The governor said the conflict began after Banggai Islands Regent Irianto Malingong implement a 1999 law on the creation of Buol, Morowali and Banggai Islands regencies.
Under the law, Banggai was to be the temporary regency capital until government offices were built in Salakan.
However, the regent moved the administration to Salakan immediately after taking office on Aug. 26 last year, without informing residents.
Jakarta Post - March 6, 2007
Yemris Fointuna, Kupang Illegal logging has been blamed for Saturday's landslides and floods in Flores Island's Manggarai regency, while the death toll from the disaster now stands at 34 with 40 more people still missing.
Three days after the disaster in East Nusa Tenggara province, most relief aid from the central government and humanitarian groups remains stranded in provincial capital Kupang due to the lack of direct flights to the regency.
Planes have to fly to the town of Ende on Flores, where the aid is unloaded before a 10-hour overland trip to the regency capital Ruteng. From there it takes another day to reach the disaster sites.
East Nusa Tenggara Deputy Governor Frans Lebu Raya told State Minister for the Environment Rachmat Witoelar in Kupang on Monday that based on the reports he had received, much of the forest in Manggarai regency had been stripped bare due to illegal logging. "I received this information from Manggarai Regent Christian Rotok," he said.
During the meeting, the state minister urged people to stop cutting down forests to ensure a balanced ecosystem. He blamed the extreme weather of the past several years on environmental degradation and unchecked industrialization.
"The extreme climate changes have caused a shift in the cycle of the rainy season," Rachmat said.
Heavy rain continued to hamper rescue efforts in Manggarai on Monday, while heavy equipment deployed to assist in the rescue work has had trouble reaching those areas in need because many roads were cut off by the landslides.
"Trucks cannot reach the worst-hit areas, forcing rescuers to rely on simple equipment to search for missing victims," the Manggarai regent said, adding that at least 200 military personnel have been deployed to assist in the rescue efforts.
A member of the East Nusa Tenggara disaster relief coordinating body, Jhonny Erasmus, said from Manggarai that in addition to searching for missing victims, officials were also relocating residents in landslide-prone areas.
"It's still raining very hard here, making it difficult for the team, especially with visibility at only about 20 to 25 meters due to thick smog," he said.
Some 2,000 residents in the regency's eight affected districts have been relocated because of fears of more landslides.
As of late Monday, the bodies of 34 victims have been recovered, including 33 from the worst-hit Cibal district. Rescuers have also pulled 21 survivors from the rubble.
"Six of the survivors are still being treated at Ruteng General Hospital," said the secretary of Manggarai's disaster relief coordination unit, Yos Nono.
Relief aid distribution problems, according to the head of the province's social services office, Sentianus Medi, are due mainly to lack of direct flights to Manggarai.
"There was information Monday that an Air Force Hercules plane would bring in aid from the Social Services Ministry, but because of bad weather in Flores the aid was flown to Kupang," he said.
The aid will be flown to Manggarai aboard smaller aircraft and then transported to disaster sites by land, he said.
Manggarai administration secretary Frans Leok said victims and rescue workers were in need of shelters, food, medicine and equipment.
The regency administration has received Rp 50 million (US$5,434) in cash assistance from the national disaster relief coordinating body, as well as 100 body bags, masks, gloves and medical supplies. State Minister for the Environment Rachmat also delivered Rp 50 million in cash assistance from the government.
Jakarta Post - March 6, 2007
Indra Harsaputra, Sidoarjo Mudflow victims from the Tanggulangin Sejahtera housing complex in Sidoarjo, East Java staged a fresh protest Monday near their flooded homes demanding the company responsible for the disaster pay them compensation.
Unlike previous protests, where residents blocked main roads in the town, disrupting traffic and commerce, Monday's protest was more low-key.
Protesting residents reacted angrily after a spokesman from the government appointed national team charged with dealing with the disaster, Rudi Novrianto, tried to stop the rally.
Angry protesters forced Rudi and Aris Setiyadi, another team member, to eat from the rice aid packages provided for residents displaced by mudflow.
During their protest last week, hundreds of Tanggulangin Sejahtera residents blocked the main Surabaya-Sidoarjo highway, the Porong highway and the railway station for more than 33 hours, causing bus and trucking companies billions of rupiah.
One of the protest coordinators, Agustinus, said they would not block roads connecting Sidoarjo and Surabaya as before.
"Although this time the protest was much more peaceful, we'll continue doing this every day until Lapindo meets our demand for cash compensation.
"We've followed the government's request not to stage protests that disadvantage the public, now it's the government's turn to listen to what people want," Agustinus said.
The company at the heart of the mudflow crisis, Lapindo Brantas, has agreed with a government appointed team to compensate residents in four affected villages. The housing complex's residents were not included in the deal.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono earlier instructed the company to start from the beginning of this month paying 20 percent of the compensation to residents who have lost their homes, land and jobs to the mud.
The compensation would cost Lapindo Brantas Inc. around Rp 2.5 trillion (US$271.7 million) on top of the Rp 1.3 trillion required to stop the mudflow, which has been gushing from its gas exploration site since May 29 last year.
Meanwhile, Agustinus said the protesting housing complex residents were not part of a group accompanying East Java legislative council members to meet Yudhoyono.
"I know myself the group is only fighting for their own interests without considering the fate of other victims. We are fighting for the interest of every one of us," he charged.
Agustinus said the group was affiliated to an unnamed political party. He said many mudflow victims no longer trusted the group, which goes by the name Team 16. Separately, Sidoarjo Regent Win Hendarso said responsibility for compensation no longer lay with the administration but with the central government.
Jakarta Post - March 5, 2007
The Indonesian ecosystem is at stake, with both the country's land and sea resources being dangerously exploited for business purposes, threatening all efforts to preserve them for future generations. Chalid Muhammad, national executive director of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), recently spoke with The Jakarta Post's Agustina Wayansari about the issue.
Question: How would you portray environmental conditions in Indonesia?
Answer: We are at the edge of ecological disaster because rapid environmental destruction is occurring everywhere in the country. Our forests have been exploited through destructive logging, industrial timber plantations and massive conversion of forest land into palm oil plantations, as well as through massive coal mining exploration. In coastal areas, the land has been converted into fishponds and shopping centers. Most of the rivers in places like Java, Kalimantan, Sulawesi and Nusa Tenggara are in very critical condition, with a high level of pollution and decreasing volume of water because of the exploitation of water catchment areas.
Our sea is also facing a huge threat, with only 6 percent of the country's total of 60,000 square kilometers of coral reef in good condition. While only 30 percent of mangrove forests are in good condition. Coastal erosion, which is occurring in more than 60 locations throughout 17 provinces in Indonesia, is also a big problem.
Is it the legal system or the law enforcement that is contributing to the environmental destruction in Indonesia?
I believe that the current exploitative policy has contributed to the damage. We also haven't seen any political will from the government, especially from President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, to enforce environmental restoration programs, which I believe can reduce the number of ecological disasters in the country. In 2006, we had 135 ecological disasters such as flooding, tsunamis, earthquakes, forest fires and harvest failures. The disasters have taken more than 10,000 lives, and left more than one million people homeless. The total loss reaches tens or even hundreds of trillions rupiah.
Our law enforcement is also very weak. The authorities still haven't charged any of the key people in the top management levels of offending companies or organizations, but are just targeting the operational level. Even worse, courts have set illegal loggers free in more than 70 percent of total cases.
I think the government needs to carry out fundamental corrections in its forestry policy in order to eradicate illegal logging. Currently, there is a huge gap between supply and demand. While our forest capacity to supply industrial needs is very limited, there is a high demand from the industry. Illegal loggers will exploit the weak legal system and court mafia in order to take the opportunity to supply industrial needs.
In this situation, the government needs to reduce demand and restructure the forestry sector. It should start with recalculating the total real need for wood in the country. Then stop exporting wood. Our domestic needs should be fulfilled from the remaining industrial plantations, and from imports if needed. Then carry out a logging moratorium in the forests for about 15- 20 years. A moratorium would allow the forests a chance to grow back. I understand it would be a shock at first, but learning from China's experience, the shock will not last long. The moratorium would bring many benefits in the long run, including reducing the number of ecological disasters and the amount of state budget needed to overcome the disasters.
How about the involvement of the authorities in illegal logging?
In some places, illegal loggers are those holding political authority and power, including the state apparatus and military officers. Political pressure sometimes occurs during the process, making it hard for law enforcers to eradicate these practices.
Is it possible to apply a moratorium here? How about its economic impact?
I believe there won't be any major impact if the government has an integrated plan. If the domestic supply isn't enough for the forestry industry, many companies will be closed down and their employees will lose their jobs. But jobs can then be allocated in ecological restoration projects, which I think will need many people. The budget should not be a problem as currently we have trillions of rupiah for reforestation programs.
How much forest area do we still have? How much of it is damaged?
I couldn't say exactly. But the most important thing is that the level of forest destruction in this country has reached 3.4 million hectares per year since 2002. This year, it is predicted to decrease to 2.8 million hectares. It's not because the awareness among government officials or illegal loggers is improving, but simply because the forest area we still have is decreasing.
Illegal logging has cost the country around Rp 60 trillion, which does not include illegal fishing and illegal mining. That figure is far higher than our state budget.
Why do you think it is hard for the government to settle the environmental problems?
It is hard to answer this question. My hypothesis is that if the government imposes a breakthrough policy, it will have to deal with a "political power base" that has made natural resources their major source of income, either through their companies or "fees" they get from companies.
Also, industrialized countries have major control over Indonesia because many multinational corporations and transnational companies come from these countries depend on Indonesia's natural resources. Government officials also lack awareness of environmental issues.
Could you explain the potential of our marine resources? What has the government done to manage the marine potential, or to prevent pollution?
So far, we have benefited from 60 percent of our fishery potential. Our sea is the center for the world's biodiversity, with more than 30 percent of the total mangrove and coal reefs existing here. Most of them are in very critical condition though and we have more than five million people living in poverty in coastal areas. Our sea is currently threatened by waste from industrial pollution, as mining companies seem to target the sea to dispose their waste.
We have seen the conversion of coastal areas into fish hatcheries, mostly owned by big companies, which have the potential to destroy the environment and raise conflicts among the people. We are also facing destructive fishing practices, some of which are believed to have backing from political authorities at both the local and national levels. Yet, we still have a chance if the government takes immediate action and enforces the law. And we are pleased that finally the government has banned the export of sand to Singapore.
The environment is also a global problem. How do you see the international role in Indonesia's case?
Indonesia has contributed a lot to carbon emission pollution in the world, particularly from forest fires. ASEAN countries have complained about the forest fires, but many of them are not fair to Indonesia. Malaysia and Singapore, for example, protest a lot about forest fires, but they say nothing when several islands in Indonesia sink due to the exporting of the sand to Singapore.
I think Indonesia should improve its foreign diplomacy to enforce an agreement on environmental issues. Indonesia, indeed, needs to fix something internally, but those countries benefiting from Indonesia's resources should also take part, such as by refusing to benefit from Indonesia's environmental destruction. Like Malaysia, some of the wood they get from Indonesia is the result of illegal logging, which also contributes to forest fires.
Jakarta Post - March 1, 2007
Suherdjoko, Semarang The government's plan to press ahead with construction of the country's first nuclear power plant in 2010 was met angrily by Jepara residents Wednesday.
"I reject the plan to build a nuclear power plant in our area. If there's a leak, we will be directly impacted. We should fight the plan together," said Sudarsono, of Damarwulan village, Keling district, Jepara regency.
"I want to know who will be responsible, morally and legally, for our fate if there is a leak."
The middle-aged man passionately shared his opinion during a talk show on the nuclear power plant in Semarang, Central Java, on Wednesday.
The government will press ahead with its plan to commence construction of the plant, to be built near Mt. Muria in Central Java, even though decisions are yet to be finalized on many aspects such as technological specifications and safety standards.
The government is currently seeking information on safety technology from Japan, the Untied States and Germany.
Ana Zomhara of the Jepara People's Inter-Forum also voiced her protest against the plant on the talk show. "I want to know why Jepara has been selected as the place to build this nuclear power plant," she asked.
Eni, a resident of nearby Kudus regency, some 40 km from Jepara, also raised concerns. "If there is an accident, I will be affected."
Several experts featured on the talk show, including nuclear physicist Iwan Kurniawan, head of the National Nuclear Energy Agency's cooperation and legal office Ferhat Azis and environment expert Sudharto from Diponegoro University in Semarang.
Iwan, who worked at the National Atomic Energy Agency until 1991, said the country is rich in energy resources. "Many have predicted the country will face an energy crisis. This crisis could be averted if we stop selling our resources," he said.
He said a nuclear power plant is not necessary as there are alternative sources of energy. "We have to consider the danger of nuclear reactors leaking. It is extremely harmful to humans and the environment. So it is better to stop any plans to build a nuclear power plant," he said.
Environmental expert Budi Widianarko said the nuclear power plant would produce radioactive waste. "Safety factors should be taken into account by the decision-makers before opting to build the plant. It is true that accidents or leaks are unlikely, but however small the possibility is, it should be considered," he said.
Chairman of the Nuclear Energy Regulatory Agency, Natio Lasman, said earlier the government was determined to stick to the original schedule, which envisages the project being put to tender in 2008, with construction starting in 2010 and the plant commencing operations in 2017.
According to its blueprint for the development of nuclear energy, the government is targeting to develop a nuclear plant with an initial capacity of 4,000 megawatts, representing about 2 percent of the national energy demand.
|Transport & communication|
Sydney Morning Herald - March 8, 2007
Mark Forbes, Yogyakarta A pilot coming in to land too fast has been blamed for the crash yesterday in which five Australians and 18 Indonesians are feared to have died. Their Garuda Boeing 737, with 140 people aboard, overshot the runway at Yogyakarta's airport and exploded into a fireball.
"The plane came hurtling into the runway at a much greater speed than an aeroplane would normally land at," said the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer, who arrived in Yogyakarta yesterday.
Four Australian officials and one journalist were listed as missing last night. There appears to be no hope that they survived the inferno that engulfed the front of the plane.
Mr Downer said he spoke to two RAAF officers who survived the crash. "They thought the plane would never stop in the length of the runway," Mr Downer told ABC television's 7.30 Report.
"It duly didn't, it just ploughed across the end of the runway, across a road, hit a bank and a culvert and went into a paddy field. When it hit the bank and culvert it exploded."
The airport at Yogyakarta, about 440 kilometres and one hour's flying time from Jakarta, is known for its relatively short runway.
The missing Australians are the Jakarta embassy spokeswoman, Liz O'Neill, The Australian Financial Review's Jakarta correspondent, Morgan Mellish, an AusAID Jakarta official, Allison Sudrajat, and two Australian Federal Police officers based in Indonesia, Brice Steele and Mark Scott.
All were travelling to follow Mr Downer's visit to the city yesterday. Mellish's mother Dawn and sister Caroline were due to be flown to Java today by the Department of Foreign Affairs.
The Herald's foreign affairs correspondent, Cynthia Banham, was pulled from the wreckage with burns across her lower body and other injuries. "I thought I was going to die," she said from her hospital bed. "I saw them burning alive I should be dead."
She told her partner, the Herald Sun reporter Michael Harvey, she survived by dragging herself from the blazing plane and rolling in a pool of water to extinguish her burning clothes.
Banham had been sitting next to some of the missing Australians. Three other Australians were injured, one with serious burns.
Banham was evacuated from Yogyakarta early today to Perth. Other flights due to leave from Australia to pick up survivors were delayed until today.
Two air force security officers who were sitting further back in the plane said they knew it was descending alarmingly quickly. Kyle Quinlan, who injured his shoulder, said his colleague, Michael Hatton, shouted out: "We're coming in too fast".
The plane bounced as it hit the tarmac, sped past the end of the runway, through a fence, across a road and 200 metres into a paddy field where it burst into flames.
"The right side was on fire outside," Aircraftsman Quinlan, 23, said. "Someone got the exit door open but then the door inside was on fire. There was a crush of passengers and everything in front of row 10, the exit row, crumpled. I'm surprised anyone got out of there."
Another survivor, Dien Syamsudin, a local Islamic leader who was travelling to Yogyakarta to meet Mr Downer, said: "I saw a foreigner. His clothes were on fire and I jumped from the emergency exit. Thank God I survived.
"Some passengers wanted to get their hand luggage. I cried to them, 'Get out, get out'. The plane was full of smoke. I just jumped from two metres high and landed in a rice field."
A World Vision worker, Meigi Panggabean, said: "As we approached the ground and I could see roofs from our window, the plane was still swaying and shaking. Then the plane was slammed to the ground and skidded forward and slammed once again before it come to a stop."
She said passengers had been warned the flight would be turbulent, and most reacted calmly. Dozens leapt from emergency exits into surrounding rice paddies to escape the inferno which reduced the plane to a smouldering wreck.
The national carrier, Garuda Airlines, said that of the seven members of crew, six survived.
Six Australian Federal Police experts have arrived at the morgue at Yogyakarta's Sardjito Hospital to help identify the dead.
Earlier, the Yogyakarta Provincial Secretary, Bambang Susanto, told Reuters 48 bodies were recovered from the crash scene and one other person had died at the city's main medical centre. But the head of Indonesia's national health crisis centre, Rustam Pakaya, said later in the day the toll was 23.
A witness to the crash, First Air Marshal Benyamin Dandel, the Indonesian Air Force commander at Yogyakarta, told a news website: "The plane was too fast or overspeeding, so it ran about 300 metres off the runway."
A crisis management expert said yesterday that excessive landing speed may have caused the crash. Associate Professor Robert Heath, of the University of South Australia, said the aircraft appeared to land intact, and the fire that then engulfed it may have been caused by an engine break-up or a puncture to a fuel tank.
"From what I can see so far the aircraft appeared to land intact and that may point to excess speed being a factor," he said. "The fire may have been caused by the nose wheel hitting things as it ran off the runway or engine destruction. It was probable that a fuel tank was punctured on impact."
Witnesses said there were inadequate resources to deal with the accident, and the fire hose being used in an attempt to douse the flames burst.
Another passenger, Murni Hilal, said she felt something was wrong just before landing. Professor Hilal said: "The plane simply didn't fly properly."
At one point she heard an explosion. "Suddenly the situation was out of control," she said. "People panicked when we saw fire. I just heard a steward shout 'Quick! Quick!' Things were just chaotic; everyone was just helping themselves. I saw people trying to get out the back door so I followed them."
Fleets of private cars and ambulances ferried the survivors to several nearby hospitals.
Mr Downer, who visited the crash site and the injured, ruled out terrorism as a cause.
Indonesia's Transport Minister, Hatta Radjasa, said that he had been told the aircraft touched down a third of the way along the runway, without enough room to stop. Panic swept through the cabin of the burning jet as it came to a halt.
For some, the first sign something was wrong on the flight came long moments earlier when a terrible shuddering racked the fuselage before the landing about 7am (11am Sydney time).
A Channel Seven cameraman, Wayan Sukardo, knew the plane was coming in too fast. "I see a fire in back, back of the flight, and many people on the flight crying," he said.
Some survivors thought they saw sparks fly from the engines, others reported hearing explosions. Witnesses on the ground reported the front wheel collapsed before the plane skidded in flames across the runway.
The nose of the plane, including the cockpit and the first 10 rows of passenger seats, was torn from the fuselage. In darkness and smoke passengers struggled to escape. "Many people panic to get the emergency door, emergency window," said Mr Sukardo, who despite a broken leg managed to haul himself from the aircraft and film the tragedy.
Ruth Bamggadan recalled her fear when the plane came to a halt. "The plane was full of smoke. I just jumped from two metres high and landed in a rice field.
"When we hit the ground for the last time things start to fall down from the cabin and also the fire outside and the smoke starts to get in the plane... so people are really panicking. Some people were helping the older ladies, but we were really close to the door so we had to get out first." She was sitting near an emergency exit.
"People were panicking, it was really chaotic. A lot of people were able to get out of the plane including me and my three other colleagues." She said explosions rocked the aircraft minutes after she escaped.
Many escaped the resulting inferno. Julianto said: "I was sitting at the back of the plane and people started to jump out."
But many did not. Captain Yos Bintoro, an airport official, said: "I saw many bodies, dozens of bodies badly burnt near the exit. I saw people dead in the cockpit."
An Indonesian Air Force spokesman, Major Sonaji, told of sifting through the smouldering wreckage of the jet, its fuselage gutted, only its tail fin intact. "The condition of the plane is very bad," he said. "Some bodies incinerated like coal are still stuck on the plane seats."
[With Les Kennedy, Nick O'Malley and agencies.]
The Telegraph (UK) - March 7, 2007
John Crowley In an era when jet travel has become the safest mode of travel around the world, Indonesia stands as an exception to the rule.
Last year, an aircraft "incident" was recorded in the country every nine to 10 days. Apart from crashes and "near" crashes, this includes whether a plane had missed the runway or was forced into a landing because of a technical fault. More worryingly, the statistics only account for the incidents which have been logged.
The Foreign Office says there are "concerns" about the reliability of some of Indonesia's domestic airlines. Its advice to British visitors is to check whether the air carrier they are travelling with has a "good" safety record.
On its website, the Foreign Office adds: "There have been a number of major crashes in Indonesia over the last 10 years, for reasons including bad weather, poor maintenance and mechanical failure."
Even by its own poor standards, Indonesia suffered a bad run of transport disasters in recent months. On New Year's Day a passenger plane crashed into the ocean, killing all 102 people on board.
Days earlier 400 people had died after a ferry went down in a storm in the Java Sea. In February 50 people lost their lives when a ferry sank in the port of the capital Jakarta.
Train travel fares little better. There are currently two recorded crashes or derailments every month.
In a country spread across 17,000 islands, transport links are crucial. As each accident generates more negative headlines around the world, the Indonesian government is coming under increasing pressure to address its horrendous travel safety record.
Jakarta Post - March 6, 2007
Syofiardi Bachyul Jb, Padang The Padang city administration in West Java has ordered three school textbook publishers to revise their Islamic books for elementary schools, claiming the texts are misleading.
The order was made on the recommendation of an evaluation team set up by the Padang administration. The team found parts of the books, which were published in 2005 for second graders, were incorrect or misleading, such as illustrations of girls not wearing headscarves or Muslim dress.
M. Nur Amin, the head of the city's education office, told The Jakarta Post on Monday the administration had sent letters to the three publishers Friday. The publishers are Padang-based Giat Insani and Jakarta-based Erlangga and Yudistira.
"Books from the three publishers are used in 416 elementary schools in Padang city, so we hope the publishers immediately withdraw the books and revise them according to the team's recommendations," Nur said.
He said the evaluation team was set up after complaints from a parent to the city and provincial legislative councils, as well as related government agencies. "The team has been working for four months and we hope it will continue its work by checking Islamic textbooks for other grades," Nur said.
The team is made up of representatives from the Padang branch of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), the Indonesian Mosque Council, Imam Bonjol State Islamic Institute, the Padang Language Council and the local religious affairs office.
Team head Syamsul Bahri Khatib, who heads the MUI in Padang, said the team analyzed the textbooks' illustrations and writings based on Islamic moral values and history, religious service and the Koran.
"It turns out much of the books' contents are misleading, for instance, by illustrating a girl who is not covering her body," he said.
Of the three textbooks, the team said the one published by Giat Insani needed the most revisions. The book was written by Dasni Yusri and other writers, including religious teachers and an Islamic education working group in Padang city.
Erlangga's textbook, which was prepared by a team of educators, was cited by the team for posing the risk of creating an incorrect understanding of Islam among students. The team found Yudistira's textbook, written by Achmad Farichi and others, confusing.
When contacted for comment, Yudistira's marketing manager in Padang, Jelvi Amri, said his office had received a letter from the administration and had forwarded it to its Jakarta office. He said the publisher would study the matter before making any comment.
However, he questioned the validity of some of the evaluation team's criticisms. As an example, he pointed to a criticized illustration of a young girl without a headscarf stepping into a bathroom in her home. Also pictured in the bathroom is a shirtless boy. The illustration is meant to show students how to perform wudu, the ritual ablution before prayers.
"This illustration, based on the situation, is not a problem since the girl is in her home, where women rarely wear a headscarf, especially on their way to the bathroom for wudu. And it's the same with the boy. But the team says it does not teach children to wear Muslim dress early," Jelvi said.
Another thing the team wants changed is the use of the Latin alphabet in the place of Arabic, which it says discourages students from learning to read the Koran.
"Yudistra's book on Islamic teaching is distributed across the country, and unlike in Padang city many regions don't obligate elementary school students to wear Muslim dress. So the illustration has not caused any problem and is acceptable. But the publisher's official response will come later," Jelvi said.
Jakarta Post - March 6, 2007
Muhammad Nafik, Jakarta Hard-line Muslim leader Abu Bakar Ba'asyir upped his campaign for Islamic law when he marched with dozens of his followers to the presidential office on Feb. 22.
The rally followed his recent tour of several parts of Indonesia to promote sharia after having completed his 30-month jail term in June 2006 for his role in the 2002 Bali bombings.
On leaving the prison for his hometown of Surakarta, Central Java, Ba'asyir received a hero's welcome from hard-liners with his Indonesian Mujahidin Council (MMI), the Islam Defenders Front (FPI) and Hizbut Tahrir. An equally warm reception greeted him when he made his recent tour.
However, the cleric met resistance in some areas, including on the industrial island of Batam, which abuts Singapore, when he went there to deliver his sermons.
Ba'asyir had received his 30 month jail term for blessing the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people, including 88 Australian holidaymakers. Five months after his release however, the Supreme Court accepted his case review plea and acquitted him of all terror charges linked to the Bali blasts. The court also ordered the government to rehabilitate his tarnished image.
At the Feb. 22 rally, Ba'asyir demanded a meeting with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, in order to instruct him to enforce sharia on the country. The president, according to his spokesman Andi Mallarangeng, could not receive the 68-year old cleric, citing his busy agenda and the standard procedure of giving prior notification.
Yudhoyono's decision to shun Ba'asyir deserves applause as it illustrates the government's rejection of Islamic radicalism and extremism. If he had met with Ba'asyir, it would be deemed that Yudhoyono was awarding Ba'asyir with state honor and undermining religious moderation, pluralism and tolerance. This would hurt Muslim moderates.
Receiving Ba'asyir and his followers at the State Palace would also cast doubt amongst Western nations on Indonesia's commitment to the fight against conservatism, radicalism and terrorism.
Indonesia has come under fire from the United States and Australia, among others, for failing to keep Ba'asyir who is listed as a terrorist by the United Nations for his alleged link to Jamaah Islamiyah imprisoned. The world body has also ordered the freezing of all Ba'asyir's assets and the imposition of an overseas travel ban against him. Insp. Gen. Ansjaad Mbai, who heads the anti-terror desk at the chief security minister's office, said last June that Indonesia would carry out the UN's wishes.
Former president Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid set an example for getting tough with religious extremism. In April 2000, he expelled the leader of hard-line Islamic group Laskar Jihad, Ja'far Umar Thalib, from the State Palace for "impolite behavior". Group members had rallied outside the palace to oppose Gus Dur's plan to lift the ban on communism.
Months before his ouster from power in July 2001, Gus Dur also issued an order to revoke sharia-oriented ordinances. The order, however, fell into deaf ears. He blamed this inaction on the Supreme Court.
Despite the credit due to him for his move to deny Ba'asyir state honor, Yudhoyono remains reluctant to take action against the sharia-inspired ordinances currently implemented in dozens of regions across the country.
Many view the enactment of the Islamist ordinances as a victory for conservative and radical elements in a nation that mostly embraces a more moderate brand of Islam. Not only the Islamic- based parties, but also major secular political groups support the ordinances to appease Muslim voters and solicit their support in elections.
The government has no excuse not to scrap the Islamist ordinances, which only create or increase discrimination in public life. The enforcement of sharia leads to classifying non- Muslims as second class citizens, which is against the Constitution.
Strong support from Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah the country's two largest Muslim organizations, who are known for their moderation is badly needed to encourage the government to immediately act against the bylaws. The two Islamic mainstream groups agreed in November last year to disseminate the teaching of "true jihad" to fight terrorism and extremism, but the deal has not been translated into any concrete programs.
The two Islamic organizations also need to take the lead in making the voice of moderation heard in all forums including street rallies if necessary. This move will counter the aggressive and massive campaigns of hard-liners, including Ba'asyir.
The enactment of sharia-based ordinances in regions would develop religious conservatism in the country, at the expense of the moderate and modern Islamic movement to build civil society that promotes pluralism and tolerance.
Jakarta Post - March 6, 2007
Ridwan Max Sijabat, Jakarta The Indonesian Military (TNI) will have to prioritize its major tasks as a recent 15 percent increase to defense budget will still not provide enough money for its minimum requirements.
Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono told legislators at the House of Representatives that the small defense budget was a chronic problem that had prevented the Defense Ministry and the military from improving their performances this fiscal year.
"The small defense budget is really a major obstacle to reaching the three major targets of improving the operational preparedness of all military units, soldiers' social welfare and soldiers' professionalism," he said in a hearing with the House commission overseeing defense affairs.
Based on the 2005-2009 strategic state defense development program, the Defense Ministry needs at least Rp 74.4 trillion (US$8.04 million) for this fiscal year, but the government has allocated only Rp 32.6 trillion, although this was an increase of 15.6 percent on the 2006 defense budget of Rp 28.2 trillion.
"The defense budget is only 43.8 percent of what is required, 4.2 percent of the 2007 state budget, or 0.92 percent of the gross national product (GNP)," the minister said, adding a greater part of the budget would be spent on paying soldiers, employees and civil servants in the defense sector.
The country's defense budget is still far below those of Singapore and Malaysia, which represent 2 to 4 percent of their GNPs. Juwono said the Defense Ministry and TNI had no alternative but to give priority to certain programs and functions.
Software design and weaponry technology research will receive funding, in order to support the maintenance of old arms and the procurement of new weapons, along with social welfare programs for soldiers.
On the subject of the planned takeover of military businesses, Juwono said the joint team was expected to finish its work by the end of 2008 and that the military would no longer be involved in business by 2009.
TNI chief Air Chief Marshal Djoko Suyanto said the armed forces' arsenal was predominantly out of date, which had prompted the government to procure weaponry through export credit schemes.
"Over the next two year, the TNI will give priority to procuring corvettes, Russian-made Sukhoi jet fighters and Mi-17 and Mi-35 attack choppers, and two unmanned aerial vehicles to help provide a minimum of protection for Indonesian territory," he said. "We will also focus on enhancing security on the outer islands this fiscal year."
Jakarta Post - March 5, 2007
Alvin Darlanika Soedarjo, Jakarta Rights group Imparsial asked the government Sunday to create a defense blueprint so as to clarify its defense policies.
"A defense blueprint, a step-by-step plan for the next 10 to 15 years, is imperative. The government can prioritize submitting defense-related draft laws based on the blueprint," Imparsial's research coordinator, Al Araf, told The Jakarta Post.
He said that based on the blueprint, the government could then evaluate whether the Indonesian Military (TNI) had improved its performance over the past several years.
"There are just so many draft laws that the Defense Ministry has to deal with, while the 2004 Military Law, which regulates among other things on the termination of the military's involvement in business, has yet to be imposed.
"The draft laws on national security and military tribunals are not yet completed, but they are now drafting laws on the revival of the military's territorial command and militia deployment. Are they capable of working on the draft laws at the same time?" asked Al Araf.
Defense research institute Propatria's executive director, Hari Prihartono, said the piling up of draft military laws was a consequence of choosing reforms over revolution.
He said the blueprint should be created at the executive level with the help of post-New Order regime presidents.
"What many people perceive as a blueprint for defense policy, nowadays, is actually only the promises of (incumbent) presidents' during election campaigns," Hari said.
Meanwhile, political analyst Ikrar Nusa Bakti of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences said the Defense Ministry had already passed the defense blueprint on to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
"The President has not signed it yet. That's why many people are asking about its existence," he said.
Ikrar said he had read the blueprint, the overall content of which according to him was satisfactory. "One aspect I did not agree with was on the limit of intelligence's role in the sea."
Christchurch Press - March 3, 2007
The Government has quietly resumed military ties with Indonesia, brushing aside concerns over human rights abuses.
The decision was made in December amid concern that limits on the defence relationship were hampering co-operation in the war on terror and fighting trans-national crime.
The re-engagement has occurred despite the fact that no Indonesian officer has yet been punished for the violence in East Timor that precipitated the suspension. New Zealand cut cooperation in September 1999 in protest against the actions of the Indonesian armed forces in the former Portuguese colony as it voted for independence.
Defence Minister Phil Goff told The Press that the suspension was lifted three months ago "to allow limited defence re-engagement".
The move allows an Indonesian officer to attend the New Zealand Defence Force staff college for six months this year. It also allows a group of New Zealand officers to tour Indonesia.
Goff said the re-engagement was a recognition of "some quite marked changes" in Indonesia since the bloodshed of 1999 and within Jakarta's military forces.
"The TNI, the defence force, has undergone significant change and reform," he said. "When you see clear changes maybe not perfection, but meaningful changes in the right direction then you signal your approval and welcoming of that by some movement on your side."
Goff said the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami relief effort that saw New Zealand troops working alongside their Indonesian counterparts in Indonesia's Aceh province had helped to improve ties.
The wave's destruction had forced Jakarta and separatist rebels there to the negotiating table, effectively ending a long and bloody civil war.
Indonesia now had its first democratically elected president, who had said reform of the military was a priority, Goff said. "We have seen real progress in terms of respect for human rights," he said.
The Indonesian Human Rights Committee said it was shocked by restoration of military ties, calling it "disgusting".
It accused the Government of making no formal announcement and ignoring human rights violations in Papua and Poso. It also noted that no Indonesian military officers and only one militia leader had been held to account for the mayhem in East Timor.
The United States-based Human Rights Watch lobby group has also been strongly critical of Indonesia in its latest report on the country.
Goff denied the Government had tried to re-engage quietly, noting a one-line mention of the invitation to an Indonesian military officer in a speech by Foreign Minister Winston Peters in December.
"I was overseas at the time of Winston's speech and wasn't able to do a formal press statement," Goff said. He said other countries, including the US, Sweden, Australia and Britain, had already re-established ties.
"There are areas where increasingly we need to work with Indonesia, including counter-terrorism, people-smuggling and trans-national crime," he said.
|Opinion & analysis|
Asia Times - March 8, 2007
Duncan Graham, Jakarta Lawmakers pushing for tighter controls on Indonesia's rampant tobacco habit are facing heavy-duty hostility from the multibillion-dollar industry's powerful lobby groups, which to date have ensured that the country is the only one in Southeast Asia that has not signed or ratified the World Health Organization's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.
The House of Representatives is drafting a bill to ban advertising and sponsorship by tobacco companies, ratchet up taxes on smokes, and boost medical research on the health impacts of smoking, points based on the WHO's convention. There may be some fiddling at the edges of the law, but total success seems highly unlikely.
The proposed law is supported by 220 legislators, but they're confronting awesome opposition, including government departments that fear the loss of jobs, taxes and investment. Indonesia has the region's largest tobacco industry, employing hundreds of thousands of people and generating billions of dollars' worth of revenues.
Supporters of the industry claim that it employs as many as 5 million people, a crucial source of jobs in a country where unemployment remains stubbornly high. Independent researchers notably have not scientifically dissected that manpower figure and statistics in Indonesia are always rubbery, with those from government agencies particularly elastic. Even former president Megawati Sukarnoputri once publicly warned voters against relying on official figures.
House of Representatives member Hakim Sarimuda Pohan, who chairs the committee drafting the tobacco-control bill, has been quoted as saying new laws are needed specifically to stop children from smoking. He claimed that in the past five years there has been a 900% increase in children under 10 years old getting hooked, an extraordinary claim that has been supported by the National Commission for Child Protection. Its research shows that more than 90% of young teens are affected by late-evening smoke ads carried on mainstream television.
Professor Mike Daube, a 34-year international veteran of global anti-smoking campaigns and onetime chief executive officer of Australia's Cancer Council, has predicted a heavy rear-guard campaign by the Indonesian tobacco industry aimed at protecting its business interests as the bill approaches parliamentary debate.
"The companies [in Indonesia] will be claiming a loss of freedom of speech and that sporting events and music shows will vanish without their sponsorship," Daube said. "Our experience shows that's just not true. They'll use all the second-hand arguments that have failed elsewhere in the world."
Indonesia has some of the slackest controls on smoking in the region. Health activists are almost silent, having been crippled by punitive legal actions. They have unsuccessfully argued that tobacco-company sponsorship of television programs including newscasts amounted to advertising in disguise.
Tobacco-related revenues are crucial to the national finances, ranking as the third-largest revenue source. On March 1, taxes on cigarettes in Indonesia were raised by 7%, and another hike of Rp7 a stick, or less than 1 US cent per unit, is scheduled for July. Total tobacco-related tax income is expected to exceed Rp42 trillion ($4.6 billion) this year.
Yet by world standards, Indonesian cigarettes are still ridiculously cheap and taxes comparatively low. Australia, Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore impose tobacco taxes starting at 70% and rising. The top Indonesian rate is 40% then drops according to a complex formula based on company output and manufacturing systems. Even after this year's increases, smokes in Indonesia retail for about one-fifth of the price of those sold in nearby countries. Smoky streetscapes
The streetscapes of Indonesian cities are dominated by huge billboards promoting cigarettes. Current laws already prohibit scenes showing cigarettes or people smoking but this has only caused ad agencies to be more creative.
One popular ad promotes a cigarette brand that allegedly tastes like cappuccino by portraying a stack of coffee cups in the shape of a cigarette. Most link sexual prowess, outdoor adventure and male bonding to the ingestion of nicotine. "Real men smoke (brand name)" has proved to be one of the more successful slogans.
Meanwhile, recently introduced restrictions on smoking in public places are widely ignored, with offenders logically arguing that trucks, cars and government-run buses belching black smoke should be targeted first. Compulsory health warnings on cigarette packs and ads are minuscule and wordy unlike the gruesome portraits of the bodily harm smoking can cause that are now mandatory on packs sold in nearby Thailand.
Although sales to minors in Indonesia are prohibited, the law is infrequently policed. The sight of schoolboys brazenly inhaling in the street is a common sight. There's even an open trade in tax-free smokes, often hand-made from tobacco smuggled out of factories, and on display at roadside eateries across East Java. These sell for about Rp3,000 (30 cents) for a packet of 12 less than half the price of legal brands. For the poor, cigarettes can be bought one at a time a practice politician Hakim and his backers also want to ban.
According to the latest research funded by the WHO and the American Cancer Society, almost 70% of Indonesian men smoke. The good news is that only 3% of women light up, largely because the culture links smoking to prostitution. (Night streetwalkers can often be sighted in the shadows by the glow of their smokes.) That hasn't stopped the industry targeting women, even to the extent of spuriously linking smoking to orgasms, when in fact it can damage reproductive organs.
In 1969, the average cigarette consumption per Indonesian smoker was 469 sticks a year. That figure has now almost tripled, according to recent studies. And the death rate from smoking- related diseases is reportedly close to 50%, with cancer and heart attacks as the main killers.
Not surprisingly, Indonesia's tobacco companies don't like being portrayed as purveyors of poisons and killers of citizens. So they have tried to boost their image through socially responsible campaigns, including a recent drive to clean up the environment. For instance, Sampurna, the country's second-largest cigarette manufacturer, now owned by US tobacco giant Philip Morris, pays for signs urging people not to litter. Another ploy is to fund educational institutions and scholarships. These are illegal in many countries when the company uses its own name or the name of a product.
Sampurna has also started to seduce journalists with media awards equal in most cases to six months' salary for the average reporter. It has already ensnared the environmental lobby with a green brand name and grants to conservationists.
One particularly hypocritical advertisement shows a tobacco company sponsoring an anti-narcotics campaign while many health authorities say nicotine is a gateway drug to harder stuff.
Daube said tactics used in the past by the tobacco lobby included recruiting financial journalists to run stories claiming controls would trigger a widespread business collapse, and "flat-Earth doctors" denying medical evidence of the health dangers. He said the arguments now circulating in political circles that controls would cause tobacco farmers to go bankrupt are patently false, noting that in Australia growers shifted to other, often more profitable, crops.
"Smoking kills about half the known users. It's responsible for about 10% of global deaths," said Daube. "The industry will claim it has a right to advertise because there's no scientific proof that advertising encourages people to start smoking and that the product is legal. Newspapers and magazines will protest that they'll lose revenue. Sports administrators will say games will suffer. We've heard all these claims before and seen them refuted."
In Australia, Thailand and other countries in the region, the involvement of medical and public-health professionals in anti- smoking campaigns has been critical to raising public awareness about the habit's dangers and in effecting declining smoking rates. In Indonesia, up to 30% of doctors are smokers, and some in the industry argue that there's no better promotion for cigarette consumption than an addicted doctor.
[Duncan Graham is an Indonesia-based journalist.]
Asia Times - March 6, 2007
Fabio Scarpello, Denpasar Indonesia's already faltering war against corruption risks grinding to a total halt if a new anti- corruption draft law now circulating in Parliament and executive offices is finally passed.
In its present form, the draft legislation boldly calls for the abolition of the recently established Corruption Court, which would in turn render the already understaffed and underfinanced five-member Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) a toothless tiger. The two independent institutions had been widely credited with taking the fight to Indonesia's endemic culture of official graft and corruption, which has resulted in a handful of high- profile convictions.
The Corruption Court started to have impact soon after President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono rose to power in 2004 and declared a high-profile war on graft. According to Transparency International, a global corruption watchdog, Indonesia consistently ranks among the most corrupt country in the world. That has historically diverted substantial resources earmarked for national development into politicians' and officials' personal accounts.
Former president Suharto stands widely accused of spiriting billions of dollars from the national coffers over his 32-year tenure. A criminal case against the former dictator, involving US$600 million he allegedly took from seven charitable foundations, was dropped last May because of his declining health. While Yudhoyono's anti-graft drive has netted certain powerful politicians, it has notably failed to move against Suharto's cronies and senior military officials.
If the Corruption Court is, as called for under the draft legislation, eventually abolished, Yudhoyono's credibility among foreign investors will be severely dented. Independent polls have consistently shown that endemic corruption and the lack of a level playing field are two of the biggest complaints among existing and potential investors.
Denny Indrayana, representative to Indonesian Court Monitoring, a local non-governmental organization tracking judiciary reform, characterizes the anti-corruption draft law as "the counterattack of the corruptors", because it would act to insulate and protect politicians and state officials from being implicated in future corruption cases.
He notes that the draft legislation is founded on the legal challenges made by certain powerful officials and business people who have recently been charged and convicted of corruption. The anti-reform ball allegedly started rolling when former National Elections Commission head Nazaruddin Sjamsuddin and member Mulyana W Kusumah were both imprisoned on corruption charges by the Corruption Court.
Sjamsuddin, a once-respected political scientist, was sentenced to seven years in prison in December 2005 on charges he had received kickbacks from an insurance firm that won a contract related to the holding of a certain election. In their defense, both former officials argued that the Corruption Court lacked legal legitimacy and requested a high-level judicial review.
The Constitutional Court last December in effect agreed with their legal argument and ruled that the creation of the Corruption Court under the KPK law was unconstitutional. In its controversial decision, the court ruled that the Corruption Court had created a "dualism in the judicial system and an absence of legal certainty, because suspects tried in two different courts could receive different treatment".
It also ordered that the Corruption Court be disbanded within three years unless the House of Representatives enacted a new law mandating its existence. The Justice Ministry then appointed Andi Hamzah, a former Tri Sakti University professor, to lead a team of experts to draft the enabling legislation. However, rather than authorizing the existence of the Corruption Court, as seemingly suggested by the Constitutional Court, the new anti- corruption draft law has instead paved the way for its demise.
Article 53 of the relevant law stated that the Corruption Court was established expressly to try corruption cases investigated by the KPK. The corruption cases handled by the Attorney General's Office, on the other hand, are taken to Administrative Court. Data compiled by Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW), a local anti- corruption watchdog, indicate that the Corruption Court has in its short existence consistently performed better than the Administrative Court.
Strong track record
According to ICW, of the 125 corruption cases heard last year at the Administrative Court, 40 of the defendants were released without sanction, and of those convicted, most received light sentences. That is, 37 people were jailed for less than two years, 32 for periods ranging between two and five years, and only 16 convicts received jail terms of more than five years.
In comparison, not one of the suspects charged in the 32 cases heard by the Corruption Court escaped indictment. Furthermore, ICW noted that the Corruption Court worked faster, handed down heavier sentences and forced larger restitution payments. As currently constituted, the Corruption Court has three levels and operates under the authority of the Supreme Court chief justice.
At the same time, it has stricter procedures and deadlines for its judges to complete the various stages of a trial than other Indonesian courts. Moreover, it in some ways transcends the judiciary in that it consists of 21 ad hoc non-career judges, some of whom were appointed from non-judicial legal backgrounds.
Corruption monitors contend that those special provisions allowed the Corruption Court to act quickly and decisively, avoiding the political horse-trading and behind-the-scenes deal-making between defendants and judges that many have alleged fundamentally compromise the judiciary's ability to adjudicate corruption cases fairly.
The Corruption Court's critics, however, claim that the non- legalistic backgrounds of its judges mean they often lack sufficient understanding and technical expertise of the jurisprudence involved with corruption cases. Following that argument, Hamzah, the Justice Ministry appointee, has proposed that all future corruption cases be handled exclusively by the Administrative Court.
In Article 36 of the draft law, the investigation of corruption cases would in the future be done by the police, public prosecutors' offices and KPK investigators, but the results of those inquiries would then be handed over to the public prosecutor for trial at the Administrative Court. That is, the Corruption Court could no longer indict corruption suspects and hence would have no mandate to exist.
Article 36 is not the only article worrying anti-graft campaigners. For instance, Article 13 of the draft legislation states: "Any person who intentionally makes a false report of a person committing a criminal act of corruption will be punished by a maximum of three years in jail." Such a clause clearly would make people reluctant to report corruption cases in fear of being charged if the Administrative Court rules the defendant's favor.
Meanwhile, Article 34 states, "The authority to prosecute a criminal act of corruption lapses after 18 years have passed since the actual corruption took place." Most analysts believe this article would pave the way for perpetrators of various past egregious cases of corruption, including the massive graft that occurred under Suharto's New Order regime, to retain alleged billions of dollars' worth of ill-gotten gains.
Other perceived weaknesses in the draft legislation have been highlighted by Romli Atmasasmita, a well-known legal expert from Padjadjaran University. He notes that the draft law conspicuously lacks articles aimed at preventing corruption, as well as appropriate measures to force people proved guilty of corruption actually to return their ill-gotten assets. He also notes it does not have provisions on international cooperation in fighting corruption.
Others note that the draft legislation has its positive points. For instance, Article 8 says corrupt individuals in private institutions, such as hospitals and universities, will no longer be immune from investigation by law-enforcement officials. Currently, such individuals cannot be indicted. Article 21, meanwhile, states that it would no longer be necessary to obtain permission from the president before investigating or prosecuting politicians and public officials. And even more broadly, it significantly widens the definition of corruption to include the "misuse of authority" and is no longer limited to stealing from the state coffers or accepting bribes.
Still, the draft law remains highly controversial and all eyes are now on President Yudhoyono, who has the final authority on whether to send the legislation to the House of Representatives for a vote. Leading figures of the two main parties in the House Golkar and the PDI-Perjuangan have already hinted their support for the proposal. Hamzah, for his part, believes that Yudhoyono will send the draft legislation down by May.
In its so-called Barometer of Global Corruption 2006, Transparency International singled out Indonesia's House of Representatives as the most corrupt institution in the country. ICW is preparing its own rear-guard action and has stated that it will present its own counter-draft corruption law in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, Indonesia's once-bold anti-corruption drive hangs precariously in the balance.
[Fabio Scarpello is AdnKronos International's Southeast Asia bureau chief.]
Asia Times - March 3, 2007
Kalinga Seneviratne, Jakarta Indonesia has taken the symbolic step of reconciling with its minority ethnic-Chinese community by recognizing Chinese New Year as a full-blown national festival, a public celebration it had banned for nearly 30 years. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono attended the United National Indonesian Imlek (Chinese New Year) celebrations at the Jakarta fairground, where his visit was broadcast live on national television.
Adding new fervor to the festivities spread over the past few weeks is the fact that many Chinese-Indonesians are celebrating as legal Indonesian citizens for the first time. A new citizenship act passed by the House of Representatives last July defines an Indonesian national as anyone born in the country. The legal distinction has allowed many Chinese-Indonesians, who belong to families that have resided in the country for generations but until now were legally considered stateless, to become full-fledged national-identification-card-carrying citizens.
Ethnic Chinese are estimated to represent about 10 million of Indonesia's 210 million people, or about 2% of the total population.
During the authoritarian regime of president Suharto (1967-98), public displays of Chinese culture were banned, and many Chinese were asked to change their names to Indonesian ones if they wished to be eventually considered for citizenship. "Suharto's government saw Chinese characters and culture as political. We were not even allowed to make candles," said Yu Le, a member of a Buddhist temple.
He said he now prefers to use his Chinese name rather than his adopted Indonesian one of Suherman. "Around the temple there were always police and military. We could not celebrate Imlek here. People were afraid to come. We had to do it at home, hiding."
Inside the same temple, an elderly Chinese-Indonesian man, who declined to reveal his name, pointed to the Chinese characters on the shrine's wall and said: "This was not allowed to be printed and we could not make these candles during Suharto's time."
Indonesia's ethnic-Chinese minority had celebrated the Lunar New Year freely until the abortive 1965 coup against Suharto's military regime, which his supporters then claimed was encouraged by China's communist government. More than 500,000 people were subsequently killed in an orgy of violence, including thousands of ethnic Chinese, aimed at destroying the Indonesia Communist Party.
After that, anything red, the color of prosperity for Chinese, or written in Chinese was seen as a threat to state power.
"I and my Chinese friends shared a good time. We helped each other," recalled Mustafa Kamal Ridwan, senior fellow at the Habibie Center, an Islamic think-tank. "However, there was [racial] tension under Suharto. I felt I didn't have any Chinese friends after 1965. We suspected that Chinese people were members of the Indonesia Communist Party, and they became enemies for Muslim people."
The Jakarta municipal government banned Chinese New Year celebrations in 1967, coincident with Indonesia and China breaking off official diplomatic relations. Restrictions covered the use of Chinese language in print and public discourse as well as public performances of cultural acts, such as the lion dance.
Diplomatic relations with China were restored only in 1990, but the restrictions remained in force. During president Abdurrahman Wahid's short-lived tenure, these bans were in 2001 finally lifted. Wahid was notably also the chairman of Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia's largest grassroots Muslim organization, with an estimated 40 million members.
His successor as president, Megawati Sukarnoputri, went a step further by declaring Imlek a national holiday.
During Imlek celebrations this year, national newspapers carried colorful pictures of the festivities. At the same time, there were also critical commentaries in daily newspapers such as the Jakarta Post, which questioned the level of ethnic-Chinese integration into mainstream Indonesian society.
Journalist and writer Sima Gunawan, who only recently publicly disclosed her Chinese name as Kho Djoen Siem, argued that few people in Indonesia knew that world badminton champion Rudy Hartono was actually an ethnic Chinese. The same goes for renowned film director Teguh Karya, physicist Yohanes Surya and pop-music star Agnes Monica, she noted. On the other hand, she carped, everyone seems to know the right ethnicity of Chinese- Indonesians who "commit serious crimes or do something wrong".
In an odd historical twist, while on one hand cracking down on public displays of Chinese culture, on the other, the dictator Suharto tapped several ethnic-Chinese businessmen to run crucial sections of the economy, allowing them to amass huge fortunes with the country's fast economic growth.
The fact that the Chinese minority 30 years later still has a strong grip on the national economy is a cause for resentment among many indigenous Indonesians, known locally as pribumis. Those tensions boiled over in the wake the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis, when in May 1998 violence erupted against ethnic-Chinese interests across the archipelago, including in Jakarta, Solo and Medan. Many Chinese complained at the time that the government condoned the violence.
Under threat, many Chinese-Indonesians fled Indonesia, including big businessmen who spirited hundreds of millions of dollars out of the country and into private accounts in neighboring Singapore. There are still widespread local perceptions among that Chinese-run family businesses favor their own kind in employment and that they tend to underpay their pribumi workers.
"If we talk about economic advantage or how they control economic opportunity, [the ethnic Chinese] are better positioned than pribumis," said Marwan Batubara, a member of the Regional Representative Council representing Jakarta province. "It is time for the Chinese community to open up and mingle with the rest of the people more openly than before."
The Habibie Center's Ridwan believes that events such as the national celebration of the Imlek festival show the government is trying to reach out to the Chinese community. He foresees the eventual formation of a race-based Chinese political party similar perhaps to the ones in neighboring Malaysia that represent the larger Chinese minority community there.
"It means there is now a willingness to integrate the Chinese [community] into Indonesia. [But] it doesn't mean they integrate with Islamic culture," he said. "They don't have to be Muslim to be Indonesian. Imlek is not a religious celebration."
[Inter Press Service, with additional reporting by Asia Times Online.]