- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 24, 2000

Dismayed in Indonesia

The U.S. ambassador to Indonesia defended himself yesterday against the second public attack in two weeks.

The U.S. Embassy accused Defense Minister Mahfud of spreading disinformation against Ambassador Robert Gelbard and damaging U.S.-Indonesian relations.

Last week, Mahfud, who like many Indonesians has only one name, accused Mr. Gelbard of interfering with the selection of a new chief of staff of the Indonesian army, a charge the embassy also denied.

The latest salvo from the defense minister concerns the arrest of an American accused of inciting separatist unrest in Irian Jaya, the easternmost province of the southeast Asian archipelago.

Mahfud was quoted in Indonesian newspapers as accusing Mr. Gelbard of preventing the deportation of Aaron Ward Maness, a U.S. citizen detained for taking photographs of bloody riots in Irian Jaya.

He insisted that the ambassador somehow "took" Mr. Maness before he could be put on a plane and evicted from the country. Mahfud gave no details about how Mr. Gelbard was supposed to have stopped the deportation.

"The U.S. citizen, Aaron Ward Maness, was arrested on Oct. 21, but he was taken by the U.S. ambassador to Jakarta when he was about to be deported at the Sukarno-Hatta International Airport," Mahfud told the Jakarta Post.

The embassy issued a statement that termed the accusations part of a "dangerous pattern of disinformation." It did not specifically explain whether Mr. Gelbard intervened on behalf of Mr. Maness.

"The United States is dismayed and perplexed by these and other recent false charges by the defense minister against the United States and its ambassador to Indonesia," the embassy said.

"Together, these charges suggest a dangerous pattern of disinformation that is creating a climate of anti-Americanism in Indonesia and undermining the warm and close relationship that Indonesia and the United States have enjoyed for many years."

The embassy described Mr. Maness as a tourist.

"This treatment of an American tourist, combined with other disturbing security trends, will undoubtedly cause other prospective tourists to reconsider plans they may have for travel in Indonesia," the embassy warned.

Foreign Minister Alwi Shihab is trying to defuse the tensions by casting doubts on suspicions raised in the media that the American was spying for the United States.

"The action of one citizen should not be construed as a reflection of the policies of his government," Mr. Shihab told reporters yesterday.

"For an example, if it turns out that there is an individual who is carrying out espionage and happens to be a civilian, we can't just come out and say that [his action] was a representation of America's politics."

Canadian returns

Michael Kergin, a former deputy chief of mission at the Canadian Embassy, has returned to Washington, this time as ambassador.

Mr. Kergin emphasized Canada's relations with the United States, as he presented his diplomatic credentials to President Clinton last week. Mr. Clinton returned the praise, calling the two countries each other's closest ally.

"No country is more important to Canada and its citizens," Mr. Kergin said. "The cornerstones of the Canada-U.S. partnership remain firm in an increasingly global and interdependent world.

"Our relationship is based on a common commitment to a democracy, federalism, a love of freedom and a shared respect for the rule of law, human rights, tolerance, diversity and the free flow of ideas."

Mr. Kergin noted that the United States and Canada are also each other's largest trading partner, with $1 billion in commerce crossing the border every day.

He also added that even when the two countries disagree, primarily over trade disputes, they "have proven that solutions can be found and that compromises can be reached."

Mr. Clinton replied, "You aptly sum up that relationship."

"Mutual understanding and respect are the product of our history. Such qualities form the basis for our ability to craft compromises and find answers for the complex challenges of our complex societies," he added.

Mr. Kergin, 58, served as ambassador to Cuba from 1986 to 1989 and as the deputy chief of mission here from 1989 to 1994.

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