Asia-Pacific

Indonesia

Things Fall Apart

A decade ago the Berlin Wall unexpectedly tumbled down....Indonesia, the world’s fourth-largest nation, could disintegrate just as quickly,” said the independent Waikato Times of Hamilton, New Zealand, on Nov. 11. “As some semblance of normality returns to East Timor...a revolution is gathering momentum in other parts of the country.” This time, Aceh province in northern Sumatra is being rocked by separatist protests.

In early November, “Up to 1 million Acenese flooded the capital of Aceh to demand a referendum on self-determination,” reported the independent Straits Times of Singapore on Nov. 11. Separatists in Aceh have been fighting for an independent state since the province’s immense oil and gas reserves were discovered in the mid-1970s. The movement was brutally suppressed by the Indonesian army under then-President Suharto.

November’s protests, however, were remarkably free of violence. No deaths were reported, and only one policeman was injured. Part of the reason may be the stance of recently elected President Abdurrahman Wahid, who  came out in favor of a referendum when his party was in the opposition, reported the Straits Times.

“I myself am pro-referendum,” Wahid said recently while on a tour of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries. “If we can hold a referendum in East Timor, why not in Aceh?” The problem is that, just like former President B. J. Habibie and his referendum in East Timor, Wahid has “very little support within the conservative military, parliament, and among cabinet ministers for a [comment] he made without consultation.”

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