- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 30, 2000

An Indonesian Embassy official yesterday asked U.S. Ambassador Robert Gelbard to provide proof of his charges that terrorists are infiltrating Indonesia.

"The Indonesian government would be very interested to receive information from anybody who could provide it, including the U.S. government," said Mahendra Siregar, information officer at the Indonesian Embassy in Washington.

"It's the first time I have heard about that," he said in response to Mr. Gelbard's accusations, published in yesterday's editions of The Washington Times.

Mr. Gelbard charged not only that terrorists were infiltrating Indonesia, but that the Southeast Asian nation's first democratically elected government in decades was turning anti-American and its military was out of control.

The Indonesian official acknowledged that his country's military faced "challenges" in transforming from despotic, military rule to a civilian-led democracy.

But some American analysts said Mr. Gelbard's tough-talking style honed as an anti-narcotics officer and special envoy to the Balkans was less effective in Indonesia, where subtlety and politeness are expected from diplomats.

One analyst said that from the beginning U.S. businessmen in Indonesia had quietly opposed the appointment of Mr. Gelbard, who is seen as close to U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Richard C. Holbrooke and to Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright.

The analyst, who declined to be identified, said the businessmen feared that Mr. Gelbard and Mrs. Albright might be making unreasonably public demands of a fragile civilian government that is struggling to take root after 30 years of former President Suharto's one-man rule.

Above all, they fear that the Clinton administration's stress on Indonesia's failure to control the militias in Timor or end the Christian-Muslim violence in the Moluccas may jeopardize the wider relationship with Indonesia's 200 million people.

Mr. Gelbard was seen recently "jabbing his finger into the chest" of a senior Javanese official in Jakarta, the analyst said, noting that such behavior is considered deeply offensive in Indonesia.

Prior to Jakarta, Mr. Gelbard dealt with Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic and other Balkan hard-liners. Before that, he headed the State Department bureau for narcotics and terrorism, known to insiders as "drugs and thugs."

A State Department official, asked to comment on Mr. Gelbard's interview in The Times, said: "The United States strongly supports the development of democracy and democratic institutions in Indonesia."

He also said the United States "supports Indonesian territorial integrity and supports a stable, united and democratic Indonesia."

This appeared aimed at Indonesian critics who say the United States wants to dismember the vast archipelago, which lost East Timor last year and faces separatist movements in Irian Jaya and Aceh.

The U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, would not comment on the propriety of Mr. Gelbard's remarks but leveled his own criticism of Indonesian human rights abuses in Timor.

Sidney Jones, Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said the U.N. intervention in East Timor last year had contributed to a wave of nationalism and resentment of foreign meddling in Indonesia.

"But I don't think one ambassador's remarks will substantially exacerbate that," she said.

In the interview, Mr. Gelbard accused Indonesia's foreign minister of inflaming anti-American demonstrations by claiming that foreigners planned to intervene in the Molucca islands, where 4,000 people have died in Christian-Muslim strife in 18 months.

However, Mr. Siregar at the Indonesian Embassy said he doubted the minister was aiming his remarks at the United States.

"He was not singling out any particular organization, let alone a country. That is my understanding. It is for internal consumption."

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