- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 13, 2001

Indonesia's foreign minister yesterday called for renewed U.S. military aid and help containing Islamic-inspired separatists who attacked oil facilities in Aceh province, where Exxon Mobil halted exports due to unrest last weekend.

"We need an active contribution from the United States to put weight on the separatist movement to talk to us," said Alwi Abdurrahman Shihab at a luncheon at The Washington Times. "Short of independence, we are willing to talk."

Mr. Shihab said he would ask Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice to rebuild links between the U.S. and Indonesian militaries. The Clinton administration halted those links in response to massive human rights violations in East Timor.

Indonesian troops also fired on pro-democracy protesters in Jakarta before the ouster of longtime dictator Suharto in 1998.

But analysts warned that the military is the one institution capable of maintaining order and unity in the far-flung nation of 210 million people scattered on islands spread across 3,000 miles.

Since the downfall of Suharto and the disgrace of Indonesia's military leaders, ethnic and religious unrest have exploded.

"There is an attempt to derail democracy and derail religious tolerance, openness and a broad-minded interpretation of Islam," warned Mr. Shihab.

He said the military has been brought under civilian control and needs to be used to curb ethnic and religious violence that has left thousands dead and tens of thousands homeless in the last year and a half.

Despite Mr. Shihab's request for military links, James Clad, a Georgetown University professor of Asian studies, said Indonesia's greater need is for help from its neighbors.

"Rather than military aid in the context of Aceh, the United States should continue to encourage quiet behind-the-scenes support that Malaysia and Thailand have been giving the central government in Jakarta in discouraging overt support and arms shipments to Acehinese insurgents," Mr. Clad said.

Mr. Shihab said Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid would not resign despite continuing pressure from students, thousands of whom ringed the presidential palace in Jakarta yesterday.

Mr. Wahid has been accused of corruption and of allowing the country to begin to disintegrate as its diverse ethnic, religious and tribal groups set upon each other.

"I have to preserve the integrity of Indonesia," Mr. Wahid was quoted as saying yesterday in Jakarta. "The moment I step down, Aceh, Riau, Ambon, Maluku, Irian Jaya and … Madura will proclaim their independence," he said listing the country's main trouble spots.

The Indonesian stock market also plunged yesterday to a two-year low, and the Indonesian rupiah plummeted 12 percent.

In Aceh, separatist rebels yesterday attacked an oil depot owned by the state Pertamina petroleum company and later killed two persons in nearby Pidie, police said.

Exxon Mobil's Indonesian subsidiary said over the weekend that due to escalating fighting it had cut oil production in the region, which produces much of Indonesia's 2 million barrels per day of oil.

Mr. Shihab said that narrow-minded Islamic militants are threatening to turn the most populous Muslim nation away from its traditionally moderate, tolerant values.

"I don't know if Gus Dur [the nickname for President Wahid] was dismissed if people could resist that seed of fundamentalism," he said.

Already Islamists have fought for independence in Aceh, waged bloody battles against Christians in the Moluccas and threatened to attack Americans and Israelis in some cities.

Mr. Shihab said his government had wanted to establish diplomatic ties with Israel following in the path of centrist Arab states Egypt, Jordan and Morocco "but we had to back off" due to fears of Islamist reaction.

The foreign minister, who studied and taught religion at Temple University in Philadelphia and at Harvard, said that separatists in Irian Jaya are more likely to settle for some form of autonomy within Indonesia than the Islamists in Aceh.

"We are trying to accommodate their demands they are more realistic," said Mr. Shihab of the activists in Irian Jaya, which is on the western half of the island of New Guinea.

Before arriving in Washington, Mr. Shihab met in New York with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to ask him to send refugee security officials to West Timor, where 120,000 refugees from East Timor remain in camps.

Indonesia was criticized by human rights groups after its army allowed anti-independence militias to sack and murder at will in East Timor before Australian peacekeepers arrived in 1999. Then the militants took control of refugee camps in West Timor and killed three U.N. refugee aid workers.

Mr. Shihab said Indonesia had arrested those responsible for the killings and expected U.N. security officials to visit the camps in April.

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