Monday, December 15, 1997

Another twilight in Jakarta?

Andreas Harsono
The Nation, December 15, 1997

The main streets in Jakarta’s business district were crowded on Friday. Amid the skyscrapers, Jakarta rushed home for the weekend, and everything seemed normal.

But it was an unusual Friday. A few hours earlier, Indonesian Cabinet Secretary Moerdiono made an announcement that some had anticipated and many had feared that president Suharto had cancelled his trip to Kuala Lumpur due to what Moerdiono characterized as fatigue, but many believe it was something much are more troubling.

“I announced a few days ago that the President was planning to attend the Asean informal summit. However, after a routine checkup, the presidential doctors advised him not to go to any long journey for the time being,” Moerdiono said.

Just minutes after the announcement, the Indonesian rupiah and the stock market plunged to new uncharted lows, forcing the rupiah to break the critical 5.00 barrier to a new record of 5,225 against the dollar in the spot market.

It is widely understood that Suharto presence at the Kuala Lumpur summit would have lent the Asean’s meeting special significance, as he is the only founding leader remaining in power since the regional grouping was established in Bangkok in 1969.

Rumors, however, began to circulate widely that the 76-year-old Suharto to had suffered a minor stroke after concluding a 12 days trip to Namibia South Africa, Canada and South Arabia earlier this month. The ageing president was even rumored to have died on Dec 5, pushing the rupiah through the 4,000 psychological barrier end up losing more than 50 per cent of its initial value of 2.500 in July.

In a apparent bid to confront the rumors, state-owned television TVRI showed Suharto meeting Moerdiono and Foreign Minister Ali Alatas in Suharto’s private residence on Friday, during which the pale looking and puffy eyed Suharto, clad in a dark yellow batik shirt, was shown sitting on a sofa. Other than smiling and nodding a number of times, Suharto did not make may gestures.

The footage, instead of calming the rumours, raised more speculation. Some said Suharto had to be helped to sit on the sofa. Others said he could move his left hand. The event has obviously shocked most Indonesians, especially those born under Suharto’s role, who are discouraged from even thinking that Indonesia may need a younger president to replace Suharto.

Australia-based Indonesian specialist Hal Hill said it is also an event that showed Suharto is old and tired. Since he took power in 1965, Suharto has built an arrogant and corrupt bureaucracy and a powerful military unaccustomed to listening to the masses. 

It survived because it brought an economic boom. People could buy food and have better clothes. Economic development is frequently used as a pretext to silence the media, to harass the opposition, to crack down on unions and to jail dissidents.

“Suharto is over. It’s only a matter of time,” predicted Rahman Tolleng, an Indonesian activist of the Democracy Forum. He explained that the monetary crisis had prompted the birth of a still-embryonic political crisis with three features.

First, he said, its is the fragmentation of the highly centralized political power of the regime. Suharto is not as strong as he was, resulting in his own supporters fighting with one another. 

Second, Tolleng said, the bureaucracy is unable to reach for whatever grassroots support Suharto might have. Third, a mass political movement is likely to emerge when people start to realize that there is a chance to replace Suharto and his cronies.

Tolleng, who is widely known to be pessimist and was once part of Suharto’s Golkar ruling party, suddenly appeared at elite gatherings, saying that the end of the Suharto era is only “a matter of weeks” away.

Many believed that the political tension is likely to heat up between January and March. At the end of January, most Indonesian Muslims are expected to celebrate the end of the Ramadan fasting month when people usually come home, buy more food and wear new clothes. Workers expect their employers to give their annual bonuses, as food prices soar. But the question remains whether employers have money to pay.

And next March, the Indonesian People’s Consultative Assembly is due to elect a new president and vice president. Suharto is expected to retain his position, the seventh five-year presidential term, unopposed and tradition dictates that the vice-presidential candidate is handpicked by him.

But Suharto’s health has made the number two position a hot seat. Under the Indonesian constitution, the vice president should take over if the president has to step down while in office.

Suharto’s aides, like Minister of Research and Technology B J Habibie, Minister of Information R. Hartono, army chief Gen Wiranto as well as Vice President Try Sutrisno, are all likely to be involved in a race for power, along with their respective allies if Suharto’s health continues to fail.

Other players, like former vice president Sudharmono or dark horses like National Planning Minister Ginanjar Kartasasmita and House Speaker Harmoko, as well as Suharto’s eldest daughter, Siti Hardiyanti Rukmana, are all likely to be involved in the bid for power.

As if knowing that the March election might create a staging ground for political unrest, Indonesian military commander Gen Feisal Tanjung issued a peremptory warning to those who sought to disrupt the plenary by “excessive interruptions, walking out of meetings or taking votes.”

Tanjung said the armed forces is prepared to take action against “those people”, although analysts here doubt whether Tanjung can still control his generals and other younger officers who are now apparently seeking new sponsors in the absence of a common platform of support for Suharto.

“Suharto has no vision” said Rahman Tolleng, “He does not even know what he should do with the monetary crisis. Even the World Bank is not happy with the way Suharto resisted the recovery measures.”

Perhaps as they sat trapped in the Jakarta’s traffic last Friday evening, motorists were already beginning to think, “How serious is his illness? What will happen if the old man dies?” 

Or, they might ask themselves, as novelist Mochtar Lubis did in his book Twilight in Jakarta, which is about the final days of the late President Sukarno in the mid-1960s, “Is Indonesia seeing another twilight?”

Friday, December 12, 1997

Health Scare: All Eyes on Indonesia's Suharto

The Nation
Editorial & Opinion


Rumours about the health of the president have shaken the country as it struggles with an economic downturn.

Newspaper readers in Indonesia are well trained in reading between the lines. Now they are putting that skill to the test again after Cabinet Secretary Moerdiono unexpectedly announced that President Suharto had cancelled a planned trip to Iran to take a 10-day rest.

Murdiono said Suharto was exhausted after a 12-day trip that included stops in Namibia, South Africa, Canada and Saudi Arabia, and that doctors had advised him to rest instead of heading for the three-day summit of Islamic nations meeting in Tehran.

''He could hardly rest during the tour because he always worked, often until late at night, to prepare for the summit and to monitor domestic economic developments,'' Murdiono explained, adding quickly that his boss was in good health and would remain in charge of state affairs.

But in Indonesia, where the free flow of information is periodically restricted, such an announcement usually produces something opposite to the desired calming effect. Rumours soon circulated widely that Suharto had a serious health problem.

Wilder rumours had it that the 76-year-old leader had suffered a minor stroke, and even that he had died. Despite official denials, the stock and money markets slumped drastically. The rupiah hit a record low of 4,665 against the US dollar, down from 4,155 on Monday.

The Associated Press quoted a presidential doctor as saying that Suharto suffers from hypertension and kidney stones.

This is not the first time Suharto has had to cut down on official state functions due to health reasons.

In August 1994 he had to spend a night at the Gatot Subroto army hospital in Jakarta for treatment for the painful kidney ailment. Indonesian state-owned TVRI interviewed doctors and showed that Suharto had more than a dozen kidney stones.

In July 1996, less than three months after the death of his wife, Tien Suharto, Suharto went to Germany for a medical check-up at a health spa. He was given a clean bill of health.

Political observers swapped rumours that Suharto has been forced to take the long absence, the first since he took power in 1965, because he needed an operation. But such medical treatment needed to be carried out in secret as a public announcement would have probably have further unsettled the stock market.

Such news might also trigger wider speculation about his ability to remain in power -- despite expectations that the authoritarian leader is to be ''re-elected'' for his seventh five-year term in office in March.

Suharto was in Vancouver last month for the annual summit meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. He earlier visited President Nelson Mandela in South Africa and arrived in Jakarta this month after a stop in Mecca, Islam's holiest city in Saudi Arabia.

A medical source at the presidential palace said Suharto had been advised to conserve his energy on the long Apec trip and should even avoid playing golf, one of his favourite sports, with US President Bill Clinton, Canadian Premier Jean Chretien and Singaporean Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong in Vancouver.

Noted historian Onghokham said that speculation about Suharto's health had reminded the public of a similar problem in mid-1965. The late President Sukarno was then rumoured to have a serious kidney problem.

''The rumours said that Sukarno's kidney problem had reached an acute phase and he could only survive for six more months,'' wrote Ong in the Kompas daily, the biggest broadsheet in Indonesia, adding that the widespread speculation had prompted the Indonesian Communist Party to initiate a political coup against their army opponents and try to take power on Sept 30, 1965.

But the coup attempt backfired. Suharto, then a major general, consolidated the army in only five days and smashed the communists. It is widely believed that between 300,000 and one million allegedly leftist workers were killed in the aftermath of the failed coup attempt. Sukarno was sidelined. And Suharto rose to power.

''Gossip, rumours and speculation are always part of the Indonesian political culture,'' said Ong, explaining that the Sukarno rumours were later shown to be false. But, he noted, the widespread speculation proved more important than the real situation.

Ong did not say whether he thought history might repeat itself in Jakarta, but the speculation about Suharto's health could not come at a more critical time for the country.

By Monday, the fragile Indonesian currency had lost 48 per cent of its value since July. The financial crisis consequently led to the dismissal of more than one million workers, most of them newly-minted members of the middle class from the property and financial sectors. Food prices are on the rise. Economic growth is disturbed. Confidence is shaken.

Millions of workers still expect their employers to pay their annual bonuses as they prepare to make merry at four holiday celebrations: Christmas Day (December), New Year (January), Idul Fitri (January) and the Chinese New Year (February).

Idul Fitri, the Muslim celebration at the end of the fasting month known as Ramadan, is particularly important and is the biggest celebration in a nation where more than 90 per cent of its 200 million people are Muslims.

During Idul Fitri, Indonesian Muslims traditionally come home, prepare special meals, buy new clothing -- and spend more money. Observers say the economic crisis will start to bite when people find out that they don't have the money to spend on expensive food and new clothes as usual. More protests are expected in the industrial belts around Jakarta and Surabaya in eastern Java.

In addition to the financial crisis, is the long drought which contributed to the burning of Indonesia's forests on the islands of Kalimantan and Sumatra and has also negatively affected rice production in Indonesia.

A big question mark still hangs over whether the ailing Suharto can navigate the country through the turbulence. Even if he uses his old habit of harsh repression, will it be possible for him to keep control?

Wednesday, December 03, 1997

"People Will Always Remember"

Interview with Jose Ramos-Horta

VANCOUVER, 3 Dec. 1997

In 1975, Jose Ramos-Horta arrived in New York as the representative of an East Timorese political party to address the UN Security Council on Indonesia's illegal invasion of his homeland. Then he received scant attention; the Cold War was at its height. Ramos-Horta continued to denounce the annexation despite frequent allegations from every corner of the world that he did not truly represent the East Timorese. The Indonesian government repeatedly refused to talk with him. He kept on speaking out.

More than 20 years later, in December 1996, to the shock of the Indonesian government, Ramos-Horta won the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize with his fellow countryman, Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo. Was it a turning point for East Timor's spokesman?

He recently spoke with Indonesian journalist Andreas Harsono on the sidelines of the People's Summit, an alternative gathering of NGOs, academics, and unions within the framework of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation in Vancouver. The following are excerpts from the interview.

How does it feel to be a Nobel laureate? Travelling and speaking a lot, but you cannot go to your own homeland.

It's not easy emotionally, psychologically and physically. Some people do not realise how tiring, stressful and frustrating it is. But for 22 years I have been travelling back and forth, talking to people who want to listen to me, governments who want to meet with me and journalists who bothered listening.

But the status quo is still maintained?

Yes, which is what actually counts because it gives me one measure as to whether the negotiation at the UN auspices have made any real impact. We look at the situation on the ground and that has obviously changed. There's more pressure on Indonesia. There's more international sympathy and solidarity. So those who are on the battle front, inside Indonesian prisons, at least they have this consolation that they are not alone in this world. I think if you are a prisoner of a dictatorship, and you know that people care, it gives you more hope and will to survive.

I talked to an Indonesian general about three years ago. He said that diplomatically Indonesia had lost on East Timor, but not militarily. I asked him why he keeps staying, and he said if East Timor is gone, the other provinces will go.

I don't agree with the doomsday scenario that if East Timor is to go, West Papua and Sumatra would follow. I don't think it will happen. If that was the case, Indonesia would have been disintegrated a long time ago when Papua New Guinea became independent. West Papua has much more in common with Papua New Guinea than it has with other parts of Indonesia. But nothing has changed in West Papua. Sumatra also has much more in common with Malaysia, historically, linguistically, religiously and ethnically.

I don't understand the logic for that doomsday scenario. It requires local grassroots movements that do not exist, in terms of secession, in those places. There is discontentment, anger, resentment about the lack of political liberty, social injustice, environmental degradation. But so far I don't see that their movements are of a separatist and centrifugal nature.

The general said Indonesia has to wait for one more generation to make sure that East Timor belongs to Indonesia. He said the current, troublesome young generation has to go first.

This is possible if East Timor does not achieve independence by 10 or 20 years from now. The new generation in East Timor will no longer feel that they're different from Indonesia. Maybe they'll grow up feeling like Indonesians. But I have my doubts. East Timor's culture is centuries old. It goes through the oral tradition. People will always remember for generations about the heroic struggle for independence. And as long as there is repression, killing and torture, how can the East Timorese feel Indonesian? On the other hand, if today Indonesia is to stop killing, torturing and withdraws their troops, releases all political prisoners and gives a genuine local autonomy to East Timor, then five or 10 years from now, it could be the case.

What about the democratic movement in Indonesia? Is it significant to the East Timor question?

I believe that the destiny of East Timor and other parts of Indonesia are very much linked. It would be easier to find a solution with a democratic Indonesia. People like me, who want to campaign for independence, they could do it in Jakarta. No one would be bothered, like in many democratic countries. I could talk with the parliament. But at the same time, I believe that Suharto still has a chance to resolve the East Timor problem without waiting for a democratic Indonesia. Suharto has the power, the possibility, the opportunity to cut the losses.

What is your reason? There are a lot of players in East Timor.

I don't think any of the political or military factions in Indonesia alone can challenge Suharto. If Suharto was to make a dramatic move on East Timor, yes, some people would be angry. But what would they do? Suharto would gain a lot of international respect and support. Any faction against his policy would be much-criticised internationally.

The likely scenario would even be a big international economic package to reward the Suharto regime, which in turn could placate those who are upset with the loss of East Timor. One should not say that because we have lost so many troops, we should stay on. More are going to be killed. How many more soldiers will have to be killed?

But even democratic figures in Indonesia like Ali Sadikin and Megawati Sukarnoputri claim East Timor as a part of Indonesia.

I don't think Ali Sadikin knows much about East Timor. I think he knows the Indonesia of the 1960s and 1970s. He does not move much beyond that. If he was to visit East Timor first and travel around the world like Megawati, he would see that any regime coming after Suharto that does not address the East Timor problem will have even more difficulties with East Timor, internationally and locally, because any regime coming after Suharto will not have the power and the strength that Suharto has had over the past 20 years. Any new regime coming after a prolonged dictatorship is always unstable. It takes years to consolidate. They would not have the military means to continue to occupy East Timor. They need more international support to consolidate their power.

Saturday, November 22, 1997

Indonesia's tireless fighter for freedom of the press

South China Morning Post Interview 

Ahmad Taufik's life in many ways parallels that of recently released Chinese dissident Wei Jingsheng. Both were thorns in the side of authority and both were incarcerated because they refused to be silenced. You have the choice of but Taufik is the luckier of the two either being in contrast to the 18 years Mr Wei a courageous spent in jail for sedition, the man or a Indonesian journalist was released in coward July this year after having served just 28 months of a three-year sentence. 

At the time of his arrest in 1995, the Jakarta-born investigative journalist had built a reputation for exposing the dark side of Indonesian society. He had a knack for exposing scandals and questionable public policies under the Suharto regime, such as the government's land-clearing policy that has resulted in the annual problem of forest fires. 

"I raised concerns about the environmental impact [of the land-clearing] before the recent heavy smog that has affected neighbouring regions," he said. 

His boldness finally took its toll when he penned an article in 1995 for the local Independent magazine, exposing a deplorable case of conflict of interest. It revealed the stakes held in several domestic news organisations by Mr Harmoko, the then Minister of Information. 

As a result, Taufik was accused of having "sown the seeds of hatred against the government". But it was obvious to him why he had become a target of hatred. 

During his period of detention prior to the sentencing, he was shown a letter that Mr Harmoko had written to the military to express his indignation at Taufik's magazine piece. 

A man of high spirits who can now laugh at his own misfortune, Taufik, 32, said during a stopover visit to Hong Kong last weekend: "You have the choice of either being a courageous man or a coward." 

Putting on a defiant face, he says he rarely worries about his safety nowadays. "I could have been beaten or killed in prison," he said. 

"Some prison officers had warned me of the possibility, but I was friends with criminals in the same jail. So it would have required a huge amount of money to get a criminal to kill me." 

Taufik, who developed a slight knee problem in jail, stopped in Hong Kong on his way to Vancouver to belatedly receive the 1995 International Press Freedom Award of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. 

He shared his experience at a talk organised by the Freedom Forum for local and foreign journalists. "There are many organisations outside Indonesia who respect what we do," he said. 

"I'd be happier if people in Indonesia respected us too. A lot of the people are afraid to show their support due to pressure from the paramilitary regime." 

Taufik's integrity is admirable. While in prison he continued writing, secretly filing to Indonesian publication reports on corruption within the police and the judiciary. He also condemned the abuse of power by prison officers. 

His interpreter, Andreas Harsono, a friend and the Jakarta correspondent for the Bangkok-based Nation newspaper, chipped in: "He was moved from one prison to another, from one remote place to another more remote place, because of his tendency to write in his cell." But the punishment did not have the desired effect. 

While in the same prison as Xanana Gusamo, the resistance leader from East Timor now serving a 20-year jail term for leading the outlawed East Timorese pro-independence movement, he interviewed the rebel in secret while they were performing gardening chores together. 

Prior to his release, he wrote to Charles Goddard, a local representative of the Hong Kong Journalists' Association, inquiring about the prospects for press freedom in post-handover Hong Kong. But he suspects the letter never left the jail, because he did not receive a reply. 

He raised the same question during his brief visit here. "I hope Hong Kong can set an example of democracy for other parts of China," he said. 

Taufik now specialises in crime reporting for the Jakarta-based D&R news weekly, challenging the authorities, for example, by revealing the military's links with the underworld. It does not bother him that his work and that of his colleagues is often subject to censorship. Neither has the presence of potential risks dampened his enthusiasm. 

His zeal is shared by a group of fellow journalists back home. In August 1994, two months after three weeklies, Tempo, Detik and Editor, were officially banned by the Government, they came together to form the Alliance of Independent Journalists, a body that seeks to promote press freedom in the country. Taufik was its first president. 

He realises an uphill battle lies ahead in their fight for a freer environment, but said: "We'll do whatever we can; we'll test the limits of tolerance of the current regime." Despite his commitment, Taufik, who is married with a son, said: "I never put myself under stress. That's why I managed to persist in my career. In jail too, I even gained weight." 

The personal satisfaction he derives from his work is another incentive for him to remain in the field. "I really enjoy my work," he grinned. 

"It allows me to have access to different information, and disclose to people information that they are not aware of. It's like a priest giving sermons. "I feel free when I am writing. We are oppressed people and what we can do is to keep voicing our views." 

Also a staunch fighter for democracy under a totalitarian regime, he is unlike the internationally known Mr Wei in that he is able to continue his activities in his home country. "I am really sorry that Mr Wei has to go abroad. He should remain in his own country and fight with his own people. But I do hope other dissidents will be released after Mr Wei." 

Showing a certain degree of optimism for future changes in China, he said: "Unlike Suharto, Jiang Zemin has just risen to power. I hope he'll support democracy and not repeat the mistakes of the past Chinese leaders."

I'nesian activists deplore Alatas 'arrogance'

Andreas Harsono
The Nation

VANCOUVER - Activists criticised the Indonesian government on Thursday for Tuesday's warning that Jakarta plans to take action against Indonesians who participate in a street demonstration against President Suharto during the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting here next week.

"They have no right to do it. This clearly shows the arrogance of power which was harshly shown in public," said feminist Tati Krisnawati at an impromptu press conference held at the Apec media centre. Tati stressed that she was not afraid and definitely planned to take part in the protest.

In a move which obviously shocked many activists here, Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas said in Jakarta on Tuesday that his government would take action against any Indonesians seen protesting against President Suharto during the Apec leaders' summit.

"If they are Indonesian nationals, yes, we will take measures against them," Alatas said.

The Canadian media immediately published the remark. The Vancouver- based Province newspaper splashed the statement on their regional page with a photo of Suharto while radio stations interviewed scores of Canadian and Indonesian activists.

Photocopies of the remark were widely distributed at scores of meeting venues where more than 1,000 activists worldwide have gathered to discuss various issues, ranging from East Timor to Tibet, from workers rights to arms sales.

Indonesian dissident George Aditjondro, who stood alongside Tati at the packed press conference, said the Indonesian government was clearly harassing citizens gathering here to express discontent with the Suharto regime at the People's Summit held to coincide with the Nov 17 to Nov 25 Apec meeting.

The non-governmental People's Summit has been organised to channel unofficial views on regional trade and human rights.

"I have to thank Alatas for making such a good public relations move for the Indonesian pro-democracy movement," joked the well-respected scholar currently living in self-exile in Australia.

Indonesian and East Timorese activists accompanying Aditjondro and Tati were clad in black T-shirts which read: "Wanted: Indonesian President Suharto for crimes against humanity".

Aditjondro said Alatas' statement had not surprised him and Indonesian officials had already been seen taking pictures of Indonesian and East Timorese dissidents at a mock trial of Suharto.

Tati said the threat was "only a drop of water in the ocean of repression" that Indonesian human rights workers must endure.

Summit organiser Shauna Sylvester said Canadian unions and non- governmental organisations would make sure that Indonesian nationals can return home without being harassed, adding that they will take action if needed.

Thousands of international protesters are likely to target Chinese President Jiang Zemin and President Suharto in street protests which are expected to climax in a massive rally on Nov 24 and 25 in which students plan to take over the campus of the University of British Columbia where the leaders are to dine.

Ali Alatas said the Canadian government had earlier guaranteed the safety of his delegation.

"We hope the demonstration will not be uncontrollable like what happened in Dresden, Germany, in which our head of state was directly and physically threatened," Alatas said.

During Suharto's visit to Dresden in April 1995 protesters staged demonstrations and booed him over Jakarta's human rights record, including the killings in the internationally-disputed East Timor.

An East Timorese student even managed to throw a rolled-up newspaper at Suharto.

Meanwhile, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Jose Ramos-Horta left Vancouver for New York on Thursday to avoid putting the Canadian government in a delicate diplomatic position next week when Suharto arrives.

"I don't want to be here while President Suharto is here," the spokesman for the East Timor resistance movement told The Nation on Thursday. "It is likely to put the government here in a rather difficult position."

Ramos-Horta, who delivered a speech on human rights prior to his departure, said he had been very grateful to be able attending the People's Summit, although no Canadian federal leaders had officially met him.

Nevertheless, he said, he was satisfied that he would eventually speak with British Columbia Premier Glen Clark, one of the few leaders willing to meet him.

Observers and diplomats earlier said that Indonesia had expressed reservations upon learning that Ramos-Horta was scheduled to be in Vancouver to open the summit on Wednesday evening.

President Suharto ordered Indonesian troops to invade East Timor in 1975 and declared the former Portuguese colony a province in 1976.

The United Nations, however, has not recognised the Indonesian takeover and is currently trying to mediate in the long-running conflict between Lisbon and Jakarta.

"I don't agree with a lot of his [Suharto] views, but I think he needs to be respected as the head of state of Indonesia," Ramos-Horta said.

He told people gathered for the summit that Apec leaders would be "courting revolution" if they continue to focus only on economic issues instead of the needs of the people.

Monday, November 17, 1997

Pulitzers for newspaper sites only

By Courtney Macavinta 
Staff Writer, CNET 

November 17, 1997, 5:05 PM PST 

When it comes to journalism, the Net has it all: self-published, one-sided commentary, interactive movie reviews, breaking political and business stories, and, of course, the digital arms of the nation's oldest, most well-read newspapers. 

But just as before the cyber-publishing storm, only newspapers will be able scoop up the Pulitzer Prize for their online contributions. 

The Pulitzer board announced today that for 1998 entries, which will be awarded in 1999, newspapers can submit work presented on the Net for the Public Service category gold medal, which is awarded for a publication's use of all its resources to serve readers. 

"The board has taken what it regards as a significant step in recognition of the growing importance of work being done by newspapers in online journalism," Seymour Topping, administrator of the Pulitzer Prize, said in a statement. 

However, he added that only U.S. newspapers published daily, Sunday, or at least once per week were eligible. The decision was made by a five-person committee within the Pulitzer board that debated whether to allow online submissions for the coveted awards. 

The committee formed in April after some exclusively online news publications, such as the American Reporter, had complained that investigative reporting entries published in a digital format were being shunned by the board. 

Joe Shea, who produces the American Reporter, tried to enter international correspondent Andreas Harsono's political coverage from Jakarta for a Pulitzer in 1997. Harsono broke a story last May that members of the Indonesian army were planning to oust the head of the Indonesian Democratic Party. 

Shea argued that Harsono was at great personal risk while reporting the story, and that the medium was secondary to the value of the story. The online publisher was unhappy with today's decision. 

"I heard about it today, but my joy turned to deep disappointment when I learned that it was only for newspapers that have a newsprint presence. I thought it was self-protective of the newspapers," Shea said. 

The creators of the popular online magazine Salon also expressed disappointment. "The Internet is injecting personality and perspective back into journalism," said Salon editor David Talbot. "There is a clash of value and a clash of style with newspapers. I would stack up our columnists to writers for an op-ed newspaper page any day."

Sunday, November 02, 1997

Car project escapes the axe

Andreas Harsono
The Nation

JAKARTA, Sunday 2 Nov. 1997 - Economists and business executives expressed disappointment yesterday that the International Monetary Fund did not include the scrapping of the controversial Indonesian national car project on its list of conditions for a rescue package, saying that the IMF lacked the courage to attack the politically well-connected project.

Analyst Christianto Wibisono of the Indonesian Business Data Center said the car project has became a symbol of nepotism and anti-market tendencies in Indonesia, adding that it deserves to be abandoned more than any other state-sponsored project.

Economist Faisal Basri of the University of Indonesia said the exclusion had created an image that the IMF-led reform effort does not touch on the basic fact that the Indonesian economy should be managed professionally and purged of favouritism.

Critics like Basri and Wibisono had earlier urged the IMF to scrap the car project on the grounds that it had drained Indonesia's foreign reserves, contradicted government policies on taxation and import tariffs and had nothing to do with Indonesian nationals.

It was reported yesterday that President Suharto's son, Hutomo Mandala Putra, had been replaced as president of the carmaker PT Timor Putra Nasional, although officials denied the move was linked to the IMF package.

Unconfirmed reports said that PT Timor Putra Nasional is to be merged with PT Astra International, one of the biggest Indonesian automobile assemblers, whose major shareholder is a group of foundations under the chairmanship of Suharto.

A consortium of nine state-owned and private banks, which include Bank BNI, the biggest state-owned bank, and tycoon Liem Sioe Liong's Bank Central Asia, had earlier this year agreed to give a US$690 million syndicated loan to PT Timor Putra Nasional.

The car programme is now being scrutinised by a World Trade Organisation panel in Geneva because of complaints lodged by Japan, the European Union and the United States accusing it of being discriminative and violating WTO rules.

Economist Kwik Kian Gie, who is also a close aide to opposition leader Megawati Sukarnoputri, said the car project could be shelved without an IMF demand because Indonesia might lose in the WTO case.

Kwik added that South Korea's Kia Motors, the Seoul-based parent company of PT Timor Putra Nasional, has already gone bankrupt and Timor cars are not selling well in Indonesia.

"Those banks that committed $690 million face a force majeure because of a liquidity problem and the rupiah's depreciation," Kwik said, adding that the IMF, however, should still include the car project on its blacklist as a matter of principle.

The value of the Indonesian rupiah has decreased by about 35 per cent to the US dollar since Thailand floated the baht on July 2. Before the de facto baht devaluation, the Indonesian currency stood at about 3,300 rupiahs to the dollar but nose-dived to 4,100 to the greenback in mid- September. Now it runs at between 3,800 and 3,900 to the US currency.

State Secretary Moerdiono said on Friday when announcing the IMF-led reform package that the fundamental objective of all these various measures was to improve the overall efficiency and competitiveness of the Indonesian economy.

Saturday, November 01, 1997

Indonesia: One Struggle, One Change

Producer / Director: Maria Luisa Mendonca
Co-Producer: Medea Benjamin
A Global Exchange Production.

Indonesia, the world's fourth most populous country, is at a tenuous point in its fractured, violent history. President Suharto came to power more than 30 years ago in a military coup that resulted in up to a million dead and thousands jailed. His regime's development model has opened the archipelago to international investment while increasing the gap between rich and poor. Since 1975, it has brutally occupied East Timor, killing more than 200,000 people and engaging in systematic campaigns of rape, murder and torture.

Pro-democracy advocates, East Timorese, labor organizers, students and workers speak out about life under the boot of the Suharto regime in Indonesia: One Struggle, One Change. Shot in Indonesia and East Timor in 1997, this documentary captures the current political climate through the voices of those long silenced. This video features interviews with co-recipient of the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize, Jose Ramos-Horta; jailed labor leaders Muchtar Pakpahan and Dita Sari; professor of Indonesian literature Sylvia Tiwon and award-winning Indonesian journalist Andreas Harsono.

Local public television broadcast
San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival
National PBS Broadcast
1997, 30 minutes, documentary

Sunday, October 19, 1997

Asian companies threatened with court action over fires

October 19, 1997

Andreas Harsono

JAKARTA-- Journalist Fikri Jufri of the Jakarta-based Matra magazine has some good advice for any Indonesian who wants to travel to either Singapore or Malaysia. Don't say that you're an Indonesian! They hate Indonesians nowadays," laughed the editor in a recent conversation.

Jufri has his reasons for giving such advice. Over 1,000 forest fires on the Indonesian major islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan have created a thick haze over Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore and even some southern parts of Thailand and the Philippines since July.

Environmentalists say it is one of the most widespread human-made disasters that the region has ever known. More than 30 million Indonesians are affected, especially those living on the two islands where the fires had burned more than 600,000 hectares of bushes and forests (an area slightly larger than Saskatchewan).

Flights have been canceled and schools closed around the region. The busy shipping lanes of the Strait of Malacca have been disrupted by low visibility. Millions of people are coughing and wheezing.

Tonnes of cargo are stored in warehouses. Some international courier services, which intended to charter private planes to deliver packages, can do nothing but wait as pilots and air traffic controllers refuse to allow flights to take off.

“They hate Indonesians. They blame the government here for the fires," said Jufri who travels regularly to Singapore to visit his teenage daughter.

For the most part, the fires are intentionally set. Hundreds of Indonesian and Malaysian companies—mostly large agricultural concerns, and some with high-placed government or military connections--are using fire as a cheap and illegal means of land-clearing. They used the slash-and-burn method in the expectation that the monsoon rains would begin not later than August.

They miscalculated and the fires spread faster than what Indonesian fire fighters could combat. Malaysia sent more than 1,200 fire fighters and airplanes equipped with rain-bombs to help douse the blaze, but their efforts made only minimal difference.

For much of August and September, the Pollution Standard Index--a standard set by the Environmental Protection Agency that measures carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, dust, ash, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide-rose between 200 and 800 in cities like Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Kuching in the Malaysian state of Sarawak.

Normally the Index stays below 100. In Sarawak, the worst hit area, the index climbed to a high of 830 for some days in September--far above the "hazardous" level of 500 at which people are advised to stay inside with doors and windows closed.

In mid-September, Indonesian President Suharto publicly apologized to Indonesia's neighbours in a speech he delivered in front of environmental ministers from Southeast Asia who had gathered in Jakarta to discuss the fires. “We are fully aware that these bush and forest fires have disrupted communications and created an impact on all of us," said Suharto.

Newspapers in the region reported that the apology came after Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad wrote to Suharto expressing deep concern over the smoke haze. The letter was presented personally to Suharto by Malaysian Science, Technology and Environment Minister Law Hieng Deng who was attending the meeting in Jakarta.

Critics say the Indonesian government did too little too late to overcome the problem. Environmentalist Emmy Hafild says the regional meeting failed to deliver plans to snuff out forest fires and stop the spread of smoke. The outspoken environmentalist calls for concerted action to prosecute people and corporations responsible for setting forest fires that blaze uncontrollably across Indonesia.

“We are planning a court action ourselves because we think these fires can be treated as arson. We're consulting our lawyers and gathering evidence for it now," she says, adding that about 80 per cent of the fires are thought to have been set by 176 plantation and forestry companies on the government environmental blacklist. Some of them are owned by Indonesian's wealthiest individuals, including its two top business tycoons, Liem Sioe Liong and Eka Tjipta Wijaya. Wijaya's PT Indah Kiat is in Riau, next door to Singapore across the Malacca Strait.

Some companies in the Salim Group, which is controlled by. Liem Sioe Liong, are also on the blacklist. Liem is a longtime associate of Indonesian President Suharto. They have been friends since the 1950s when the young lieutenant colonel Suharto was a military commander in Central Java and Liem had just started his business in the province.

Other major players with blacklist ties are timber baron Bob Hasan, whose PT Kiani Lestari operates in Kalimantan, and Prayogo Pangestu of the widely diversified Barito Pacific Group. (Pangestu's PT Musi Hutan Persada is in southern Sumatra.)

Hasan plays golf two or three times a week with the Indonesian president, who has been in power since 1965, prompting claims that Hasan meets Suharto more often than government ministers. Hasan is also a close business adviser to the president and runs the day-today affairs of the Nusamba Group, owned by private foundations controlled by Suharto.

Prayogo is a younger tycoon who has close ties to the eldest daughter of Suharto, Siti Hardlyanti Rukmana. Prayogo and Rukmana have shared interests in some businesses. Ironically, the blacklist also includes the names of some state-owned plantation companies operating in Kalimantan such as PTP XVIII, PTP Pelaihari, PTP Pamukan, and FTP Muara Badak. Companies owned by an army foundation also appear on the list.

According to Fikri Jufri, the Malaysians and the Singaporeans hate Indonesian people because the people here do not fight enough to oppose a government with such bad practices. “My advice is just don't say that you're an Indonesian. It's a shame to be an Indonesian," the journalist laughed again.

Copyright 1997 Micromedia Limited
Canadian Business and Current Affairs
Copyright 1997 New Catholic Times Inc.
Catholic New Times

Wednesday, October 01, 1997

Love at first sight, Slorc meets Abri

Inside Indonesia no. 52 October-December 1997

ANDREAS HARSONO visits Burma and is intrigued by the respect its military show for the Indonesian model.

The mouthpiece of the Burmese military regime, the New Light of Myanmar newspaper, in mid-1996 dubbed the relationship between Indonesia and Burma 'two nations with common identity'.

Official visits between the two governments have increased sharply since 1993. They marked not only the progress in Burma-Indonesia diplomatic ties but also the growing eagerness of the Burmese junta to copy the political system of its more established neighbour.

'No other country is closer to the regime than Indonesia,' said a senior Asian diplomat in Rangoon, adding that Indonesia is like 'a big brother' in the eyes of the Burmese generals.

The newspaper repeatedly praised the positive economic and political development in Indonesia, where the Indonesian military has the dual function of protecting the security of the state while dominating party politics as well.

High profile visits
Foreign Minister Ali Alatas and Defence Minister Edi Sudrajat visited Rangoon in February 1994 and November 1995 respectively. In August 1994 businessman Hutomo Mandala Putra of the Humpuss business group, the youngest son of President Suharto, also led a high-profile business delegation to Rangoon.

The Indonesian patriarch himself visited Burma in February 1997 in a high-profile tour during which Suharto again reiterated the fundamental creed of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean): 'We should not interfere in the affairs of our neighbours.'

His eldest daughter, Siti Hardiyanti Rukmana, who is also an influential political figure in Indonesia, accompanied her father to sign some business deals in Rangoon. Suharto even went to have a chat with Burmese behind-the-scene strongman Gen Ne Win, whom he once visited in 1974.

In return, earlier Slorc leader Senior Gen Than Shwe met Suharto in Jakarta in June 1995, while his aide, Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt, who heads the intelligence service, traveled more frequently to Jakarta.

The Burmese embassy in Jakarta is the largest among Burmese embassies in Southeast Asia, demonstrating that Jakarta is a crucial relationship for the Slorc. The Burmese ambassador to Jakarta, U Nyi Nyi Tant, a close associate of Khin Nyunt, is portrayed as the spearhead of his nation's lobbying efforts in Jakarta, which also hosts the secretariat, or headquarters, of Asean.

Why does Burma do it? Why does the Slorc want to copy the Indonesian New Order?

The easiest explanation is that both countries are ruled by military men. Southeast Asia, to which Burma belongs, has several authoritarian governments but only one military ruler to duplicate: Indonesia.

Despite homework still to solve a serious socio-economic gap, and despite the potential for a major religious conflict and political unrest, Indonesia is widely seen as one of Asia's success stories.

Burma, on the contrary, is a pariah, one of the most brutal regimes in the world. It is currently under stiff international criticism and sanctions after its refusal to transfer power to opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi of the National League for Democracy, who won the general election in 1990.

The Slorc is trying to show the international community that it is also a responsible government which is going to bring order and prosperity in Burma. But, the junta argues, first they need to silence the opposition to create political stability in Burma - just as the Indonesians did in the 1970s.

Indonesian ambassador to Burma, A Poerwanto Lenggono, said in November 1996 that the Burmese government would like to imitate the New Order of President Suharto's government in three key areas: the Indonesian state ideology, Pancasila, the 1945 constitution and the dual function of the military.

Dual function
'We didn't ask them. They imported the whole lesson, saying that they would like to learn from us. They are welcome, but we told them that each country has its own characteristics. Our experience could be adopted here [only] in accordance with the local values,' said Lenggono.

Burmese veteran journalist M C Tun confirmed that the Slorc had published the Indonesian constitution in Burmese. 'They asked people to learn from it while drafting the Burmese constitution,' he said.

Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt once indicated that as soon as the new constitution was drawn up, the Burmese armed forces, tatmadaw, which is currently ruling by decree, would hand over power to a civilian government.

One of his close associates, Brig-Gen David O Abel, said that the Slorc learns not only from Indonesia but also the 'miracle' of South Korea and other Newly Industrialised Countries. 'We can learn many good things on these studies especially Indonesia. We fought against the colonialists also to establish Myanmar. With that objective and inspiration we look at Indonesia as a model. How Indonesia gets the people united over 200 million.'

Despite skepticism over whether the Slorc intends to hand over power to the National League for Democracy of Suu Kyi, it is believed in Burma that the Indonesian constitution provides room for the military to be involved in politics.

Suu Kyi and Megawati
Of course Suu Kyi has a 'counterpart' in Indonesia. Both Suu Kyi and Indonesian opposition leader Megawati Sukarnoputri are leading pro-democracy activists in the region. And both are the daughters of charismatic fathers - President Sukarno and General Aung San - who helped free Indonesia and Burma respectively from their colonial masters after World War II.

Both daughters have emerged from the shadows of their fathers to lead opposition to two of the strongest military rulers in Southeast Asia: Megawati against President Suharto's 'New Order' in Indonesia, and Suu Kyi against the State Law and Order Restoration Council (Slorc) in Burma.

'Perhaps the similarity is that we are trying to contribute something for the future of our nations,' said Megawati, admitting that most people recognise a woman like her because of their fathers and their womanhood.

She said that both she and Suu Kyi have not only their fathers' name but also their own political struggles, stamina and determination. 'Who is Megawati without the name of Sukarno? I cannot deny that, but it is not only a matter of the surname. It depends on our personal abilities and opportunities as well,' said Megawati.

Their opponents, however, often fail to realise that these women have their own political strength. In a bid to downgrade their political influence, their military opponents pressured their media to use the names of Mrs Megawati Taufik-kiemas and Mrs Michael Aris, after their respective husbands Indonesian businessman, Taufik Kiemas and British scholar Dr Michael Aris, rather than their maiden names, which connect them to their fathers in the public's mind.

Suu Kyi herself said that one of the most visible differences between the Slorc and the New Order is the employment of western-educated technocrats such as economists and social engineers. 'The Slorc does not trust intellectuals,' the winner of the 1991 Nobel Peace prize said. 'Intellectuals who are trying to say something rational could be easily accused of planning a plot against them. They could end up in jail.'

President Suharto has worked closely with Indonesian technocrats since he rose to power in 1965. He led the military's work on political issues while the economists drafted all monetary and economic policy.

Most of those, like Prof Widjojo Nitisastro, who headed the economic team, were alumni of University of Berkeley of the United States.

Critics later called them 'Berkeley Mafia' because of their shrouded but effective influence over the national development policy. The Slorc, however, has nobody like Prof Nitisastro on their team. Asian diplomats to Rangoon call most of the Slorc generals 'ignorant,' although Khin Nyunt and Minister for National Planning and Economic Development Brig-Gen David Abel have both won kudos because of their workaholic personalities.

'Abel is the smartest guy within the Slorc. Khin Nyunt is not really smart, but he is a workaholic. He knows a lot because he heads the intelligence service,' said a diplomat.

An observer in Jakarta said it is impossible for the Slorc to follow the Indonesian path if they do not use technocrats. 'As long as we are talking about free markets and capitalism, which I believe is being implemented by the Slorc now, we have to use the technocrats.'

Bandung 1955
Megawati cautiously said that the Slorc brought Burma far from the spirit of the Asia-Africa Declaration signed in Bandung, Indonesia, in 1955 by world leaders from Asia and Africa.

'Democracy is partly the idea of independence. It is true now that Burma has no democracy and that we should help Burmese people to fight for democracy.'

'It doesn't mean that I want to interfere in Burma's internal affairs, but the common platform is the Asia-Africa Declaration. We have to remind the Slorc about the spirit of the declaration.'

'If we compare Burma and South Africa in 1955, we realise that now Burma is left far behind, while South Africa under President Nelson Mandela has already solved its most crucial problem and prepared to face globalisation.'

Others said that the Slorc's attempt was merely a tactic to seek help from Indonesia to sponsor Burmese membership in Asean, which was opposed by several member nations.

The Slorc was believed to be 'more than eager' to join Asean in a bid to get a measure of regional support while it faced international condemnation from Western countries like the United States, and European countries that have sometimes imposed official bans to discourage investment in Burma.

Asean members - which include Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam - were divided on the timing of the Burmese membership.

Indonesia and Malaysia agreed on letting Burma join Asean in 1998, while the Philippines, Thailand and Singapore had reservations. But they finally agreed in an informal meeting in November 1996 in Jakarta to welcome Burma as well as Cambodia and Laos in 1998.

When Asean countries officially accepted Burma to join their ranks in an Asean summit in Kuala Lumpur in July 1997, many felt it would send a dangerous signal to Rangoon that it could continue to ignore demands for the transfer of power to civilians and to abuse human rights. Indonesia, at that point, would share the responsibility and blame.

Andreas Harsono is a freelance journalist in Jakarta.

Makna Kehadiran Ne Win di Jakarta

JAKARTA (SiaR, 1/10/97) -- Orang kuat Burma Ne Win, yang hidup dalam kerahasiaan dan tidak pernah muncul sejak tahun 1989, tiba-tiba berkunjung ke Jakarta, makan malam dengan Presiden Soeharto dan ziarah ke makam keluarga Suharto di Surakarta (23-25/9).

Menurut keterangan Sekretariat Negara, kedatangan Ne Win adalah atas undangan pribadi Soeharto. Bukan sebagai tamu negara. Undangan secara lisan disampaikan kepada Ne Win ketika Soeharto berkunjung ke Rangoon bulan Febuari 1997. Belakangan undangan tertulis juga dikirimkan lewat Dutabesar Indonesia untuk Burma Poerwanto Lenggono.

Ne Win datang ke Jakarta dengan menumpang sebuah pesawat jet yang dikirim dari Jakarta. Dalam rombongan sebanyak 12 orang itu juga termasuk anak perempuan Ne Win, Daw Khin Win, menantu U Aye Zaw Win, cucu laki-laki Maung Kyaw Ne Win, dokter pribadi dan para pengawal.

Selama tiga hari di Jakarta, Ne Win menginap di Hotel Borobudur Intercontinental, Lapangan Banteng, Ne Win yang didampingi oleh keluarganya serta Dutabesar Burma untuk Indonesia U Nyi Nyi Tant sempat memenuhi undangan makan malam di Istana Merdeka.

Soeharto sendiri hanya ditemani oleh ketiga orang puterinya --Mbak Tutut, Mbak Titiek, Mbak Mamiek-- serta menantu, Mayor Jendral Prabowo Subianto dan Menteri Luar Negeri ad interim Edi Sudrajat.

Namun tak seperti kebanyakan tamu-tamu asing, Ne Win menyempatkan diri terbang ke Solo dan berkunjung ke makam Ibu Tien Suharto. Konon dalam ziarah ke makam di pinggir kota Solo ini kaki Ne Win keseleo sehingga acara berikutnya di Taman Mini Indonesia Indah terpaksa dibatalkan.

Kehadiran Ne Win ini ternyata menggemparkan Burma. Beberapa pengamat Burma terus-terang mengatakan dalam internet bahwa ini benar-benar kejutan. Mereka kebanyakan juga tidak bisa menerangkan ada apa di balik kejadian yang langka ini walau pun ada yang menyamakan kemunculan Ne Win dengan mantan orang kuat Khmer Merah Pol Pot yang pertengahan tahun lalu muncul di Kamboja bagian utara.

Aung Zaw, seorang wartawan Burma yang tinggal di Chiang Mai, Thailand, mengatakan bahwa orang-orang Burma yang melarikan diri dari negaranya bahkan sangat terkejut ketika suratkabar-suratkabar Thailand mencetak gambar Ne Win berpakaian batik sedang bersalaman hangat dengan Soeharto.

"Dia masih segar bugar. Padahal the old man" pernah diisukan sakit-sakitan dan mau mati," kata Aung Zaw. Radio Free Asia yang berpusat di Washington dan dipancarkan ke Burma juga bertanya-tanya ada apa di balik kunjungan misterius tersebut. Mengapa Ne Win memilih keluar dari misteri dan datang ke Jakarta?

"The old man" adalah sebutan yang lazim diberikan kalangan elit Burma kepada Ne Win, salah satu pejuang kemerdekaan Burma pasca Perang Dunia II, yang lantas mengkudeta pemerintahan sipil hasil pemilihan umum Perdana Menteri U Nu 1952 dan mendirikan rejim militer.

Rejim inilah yang kemudian membunuh ribuan mahasiswa Burma secara brutal tahun 1988. Sadar dirinya tidak populer, Ne Win lantas mengundurkan diri dan digantikan oleh jendral-jendral yang lebih muda dan menamakan diri SLORC (State Law and Orderliness Restoration Council) bulan September 1988.

Ada dua analisa yang saling bertentangan mengenai kunjungan Ne Win. Spekulasi pertama, ini hanya kunjungan persahabatan antara dua senior yang sudah saling mengenal sejak tahun 1970-an. Ne Win sudah dianggap tidak berkuasa lagi namun Soeharto masih menghargainya dan mengundang Ne Win "jalan-jalan" ke Jakarta. Analisis ini mengandaikan bahwa kunjungan ini sama sekali tidak politis. Ne Win hanya dianggap figur senior yang sudah tidak berperan dalam pengambilan keputusan SLORC.

Analisis kedua mengatakan justru Soeharto yang dengan jeli melihat bahwa cara yang masih berdayaguna untuk mempengaruhi rejim militer Burma adalah lewat Ne Win, bukannya ketua SLORC Jendral Tan Shwe atau Sekretaris Pertama Jendral Khin Nyunt.

Burma memang dianggap sebagai "bermasalah" oleh kebanyakan negara ASEAN, termasuk Indonesia, yang menerimanya sebagai anggota penuh bulan Juli 1997. Walau pun "bermasalah" --terutama karena SLORC tidak mau mengakui hasil Pemilu 
1990, yang dimenangkan tokoh oposisi Aung San Suu Kyi-- namun negara-negara ASEAN merasa SLORC adalah rekan yang bisa dihandalkan dalam menghadapi Barat, bekerja sama dalam bisnis dan setidaknya bisa dibuat "lebih beradab."

Soeharto boleh jadi mendekati Ne Win agar orang tua ini bisa mempengaruhi jendral-jendral SLORC untuk bersikap lebih diplomatis bila berhadapan dengan negara-negara Barat dalam soal Suu Kyi yang memenangkan Hadiah Nobel Perdamaian 1991.

Analisa kedua ini mengandaikan bahwa Ne Win datang ke Indonesia karena Indonesia adalah "saudara tua" Burma. Indonesia adalah negara yang didominasi oleh pemerintahan militer namun tidak menerapkan hukum dan peraturan militer yang kaku. Bahkan oleh banyak negara, pemerintahan Presiden Soeharto dianggap berhasil membangun ekonomi Indonesia sejak tahun 1965.

Burma pada sisi lain adalah contoh sebuah rezim militer yang diasingkan oleh masyarakat internasional. Amerika Serikat memberikan sanksi ekonomi. Negara-negara Eropa melarang diplomat Burma berkunjung ke daratan Eropa. Sementara prestasi ekonominya juga amburadul. Ne Win membawa ekonomi bekas koloni Inggris dan gudang beras Asia ini kepada kebangkrutan.

Wajar apabila SLORC hendak meniru ABRI. Dalam beberapa kunjungan resmi sebelumnya, Khin Nyunt dengan terbuka mengatakan ingin belajar soal Dwifungsi ABRI, UUD 1945 maupun GBHN Indonesia. Ia ingin mendapatkan "resep Indonesia." Ne Win datang ke Jakarta terutama untuk memperkuat hubungan ABRI-SLORC sekaligus melihat langsung keberhasilan pembangunan di Indonesia. Dalam hal ini, asumsi analisis ke dua bahwa Ne Win masih mempunyai gigi, tampaknya lebih 
mendekati kebenaran.

"Presiden Soeharto setidaknya mencium hal ini," ujar seorang pengamat. Namun ada laporan lain yang menyebutkan bahwa kehadiran Ne Win ini juga dimanfaatkan oleh puteri-puteri Soeharto untuk bicara bisnis. Daw Khin Win selain merupakan dokter ayahnya, juga seorang pengusaha perhotelan. Ia memiliki dua buah hotel di Rangoon.

Beberapa pengamat mengatakan bahwa investasi keluarga Suharto di Burma sudah bukan ukuran kelas ringan. Mereka bergerak di bidang industri semen, kayu, perdagangan dan sebagainya. Adik kandung Prabowo, Hasyim Djojohadikusumo, 
berkehendak mendirikan pabrik semen di luar kota Rangoon.

Di pihak lain, Mbak Tutut dan Mbak Titiek juga sedang dalam persiapan menanamkan investasi mereka di negeri longji tersebut. Tutut saat menemani Soeharto berkunjung ke Burma juga menandatangani MOU untuk investasi. Siapa tahu lewat jamuan makan malam itu mereka bisa memperoleh partner bisnis yang tepat.

Yang punya kepentingan juga bukan hanya mereka. Prabowo dan Edi Sudrajat boleh jadi juga ingin mengenal Ne Win lebih jauh. Kedua orang ini termasuk mereka yang kurang senang apabila ABRI disamakan dengan SLORC. Menurut seorang pengamat militer, Prabowo pernah dalam satu kesempatan menyatakan kepadanya tentang ketersinggungannya apabila ABRI disamakan dengan SLORC.

"Pandangan ini bukan hanya pandangan Pak Prabowo. Saya tahu kebanyakan perwira menengah kita tidak suka direndahkan derajatnya dan disamakan dengan militer Burma," ujar sang pengamat pada SiaR.

Prabowo, yang sebenarnya agak jarang menemani mertuanya, mungkin melihat jamuan makan malam ini sebagai sesuatu yang penting. Ia ingin melihat dari dekat "the old man" yang dengan darah dingin sudah membunuh beratus ribu rakyat 
Burma. Mudah-mudahan bukan Prabowo yang nantinya belajar pada Ne Win.

Friday, September 26, 1997

Ne Win Leaves Jakarta After 'Secret' Dialogue

Andreas Harsono
The Nation

JAKARTA - Burma's former leader Ne Win left Jakarta for a medical check-up in Singapore yesterday after holding talks with Indonesian President Suharto and visiting the cemetery of the late first lady, Tien Suharto.

An atmosphere of secrecy, however, surrounded Ne Win's three-day visit, which included a cancelled tour to an Indonesian miniature park which was the only sightseeing on his schedule.

"No tourist comes to Indonesia just to visit the cemetery and to talk with the president," said a Burma watcher.

Speculation began to circulate in Jakarta two months ago that Suharto, who visited Rangoon in February, was inviting Ne Win to come to Jakarta in a bid to discuss the issue of democratisation in Burma.

It was speculated that the Indonesian leader, who supported Burma's admission into the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in July, would ask Ne Win to use his influence to ask Rangoon's military junta to open dialogue with Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

A state protocol official told The Nation that the 86-year-old Ne Win and his entourage left Jakarta on a commercial flight from Cengkareng airport for Singapore, saying that Ne Win had bid farewell to Suharto earlier in the morning. The two strongmen met for about 15 minutes on Tuesday evening before dining together.

Many Burmese believe that Ne Win still exercises control over the present military government, the State Law and Order Restoration Council (Slorc), which succeeded him in September 1988.

Some analysts have written that there is little hope of breaking the political stalemate between Slorc and the democracy movement until Ne Win dies.

His public appearance in Indonesia also raised the curiosity of Burma watchers as his last public appearance was on Armed Forces Day in Rangoon in March 1989.

An Indonesian journalist who was at the Merdeka Presidential Palace during the dinner said it was not clear whether the two strongmen discussed politics.

The dinner was a relatively quiet Suharto was accompanied only by his three daughters and son-in-law Maj Gen Prabowo Subianto, who is the commander of Indonesia's special command Kopassus, as well as interim Foreign Affairs Minister Edi Sudrajat.

Ne Win was accompanied by his daughter Sanda Win, son-in-law U Aye Zaw Win, grandson Maung Kyaw Ne Win and Burmese ambassador to Indonesia U Nyi Nyi Tant.

Monday, August 25, 1997

National League for Democracy Awaits Dialogue

Andreas Harsono
The Nation, August 25, 1997

The Burmese apposition is growing increasingly confident the military government will seek talks soon. The Nation’s Andreas Harsono and Yindee Lertcharoenchok report.

The residence of U Tin Oo is located in the elite Golden Valley area in the Rangoon and the Burmese dissident was still listening to an English language foreign radio service. He had the volume set high to haunt the military intelligence officer near his house.

The residence of U Tin Oo is located in the elite Golden Valley area in Rangoon and the Burmese dissident was still listening to an English language foreign radio service. He had the volume set high as if to taunt the military intelligence officers who frequently inspect his house.  

"In Burma, listening to foreign radio stations is a rare phenomenon. People are afraid. They don't talk about politics in public. They could end up in jail even by mentioning the names of some opposition figures. 

"Everybody wishes to talk. But the day will come. It is not far away," smiled the square-faced and bespectacled Tin Oo, a retired army general and currently the vice-chairman of the opposition National League for Democracy whose secretary-general is 1991 Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. 

Clad in light blue longyi, white collarless shirt and grey Burmese jacket, Tin Oo hinted that the time is now appropriate for the ruling State Law and Order Restoration Council (Slorc) to have talks with the NLD. 

"They [Slorc] once said they are not going to talk with Khun Sa. The next day they drank tea together," said Tin Oo, referring to the infamous drug lord who in January last year surrendered himself to the Slorc and who has since claimed to have washed his hand off illicit heroin trade in the Golden Triangle area and now live quietly in a 6 mansion in Rangoon. 

Tin Oo is not alone in thinking so. Scores of Asean diplomats in Rangoon and prominent Burmese figures believed that both the Slorc and NLD are now interested in opening a dialogue in a bid to resolve Burmese political stalemate since Slorc's refusal to hand over power to NLD after winning the 1990 general election. 

Many believed if Burma could find a solution, it would not only benefit the Burmese people who had suffered from brutal military rule since 1962, but also contribute to stability in Southeast Asia. 

"Thailand, at least, will have no refugees on its western border," said an Asian diplomat. Poerwanto Lenggono, the Indonesian ambassador to Burma, said the Slorc had taken steps to open a dialogue with NLD after the country's membership in Asean was confirmed in the Asean ministerial meeting in Kuala Lumpur last month. 

He said since then both sides of the Burmese divide are restraining themselves and appear to "soften" their political stance. Poerwanto said the situation is now relatively "peaceful" although the University Avenue remains closed where people are barred from going to Suu Kyi's residence on that famous street where the NLD had held public gatherings every weekend since her release in July 1995 until they were stopped late last year by the Slorc. 

To many exiled dissidents and foreign diplomats, the unexpected meeting on July 17 between Slorc Secretary Lieutenant General Khin Nyunt and NLD Chairman U Aung Shwe was actually the beginning of a bilateral Slorc-NLD dialogue.

Although some critics believed the meeting was organised purely for "international consumption" in a move to avert any possible last-minute hurdle to Burma's admission into Asean, several Burmese activists - including an exiled NLD MP in Bangkok - were ready to give the Slorc the benefit of the doubt. 

Despite an obvious lack of any essential substance, the latter hoped that the "cordial discussions" as the Slorc put it would lead to more talks between the two Burmese political antagonists. 

Khin Nyunt, also chief of the notorious Directorate for Military Intelligence Services, reportedly told Aung Shwe that he would like to have further dialogue, but the NLD leader also clearly notified that further talks should include Suu Kyi. 

"We're not going to have dialogue without her," Aung Shwe reportedly said. 

Poerwanto said over the last three months, NLD has not made any new overtures especially after the Slorc had accused it of involvement in the fatal parcel bomb attack in April that killed the eldest daughter of Slorc Secretary Number Two Lieutenant General Tin 00. 

He doubted whether Suu Kyi, who is a strong supporter of non-violence movement, could have order such a move, adding that the 52-year-old NLD leader had perhaps expected Asean to ask the Slorc to be "a good boy" after becoming an Asean member. 

Some critics said that Slorc decision to have the talks was because the generals are facing difficulties in running the country under strong international pressure. The military junta cannot keep the prices of basic needs under control, prompting criticism of the military regime. 

Burmese journalist Sein Win, however, has another explanation. He believed that Suu Kyi is "lying low" after Khin Nyunt's serious allegations in June that she and the NLD had received over US$80,000 from American organizations. 

Under the Burmese law, it is illegal for any political party to receive financial support from foreign countries. 

When asked whether Burma could get out of the current political stalemate, Sein Win, who worked for the then privately-run New Light of Burma before it was nationalized in 1965, said it might happen after the constitution is passed. But as to when this will happen, nobody knows. 

The National Convention had stopped convening after NLD pulled out of the constitution-making body in November 1995. 

Sein Win said after the passing of the constitution, SLORC promised to hold a general election but want to exclude Suu Kyi because she is married to a foreigner. Burma's laws ban politicians married to foreigners from involvement in parliamentary or governmental affairs. 

Suu Kyi, who is married to British scholar Dr Michael Aris, however, has repeatedly said she would not seek political power. Some Burmese businessmen also doubted whether people like Tin Oo and Suu Kyi could govern Burma "because they have no military support." 

It is next to impossible that Suu Kyi, however popular she is, be in power as long as the army does not support her. "Power comes from the barrel of the gun," said a Chinese noodle manufacturer. 

When asked whether the Slorc and NLD needs an international mediator like South African Nelson Mandela who is now working on East Timor, Tin Oo said the situation in Burma and East Timor is different. 

According to him, Burma does not need a mediator although he admitted that a number of Nobel laureates including Mandela and South African Bishop Desmond Tutu had already offered help. 

"No, we can solve the problem ourselves," said the former chief of staff of the Burmese Army. 

He also said that scores of old veteran officers had organized a meeting to help mediate the Slorc-NLD conflict, adding that these old soldiers – who helped General Aung San, Suu Kyi's father, to fight against the British colonial ruler and liberate Burma - want to see democracy and good governance restored in Burma before they die. 

Tin Oo explained that bilateral talks should be conducted on equal grounds "in a dignified way on the pattern of democratic principle." He also urge Asean representatives to Rangoon to talk with NLD.

Go Ask SLORC, How Long They Can Stand the Strain?

Andreas Harsono

RANGOON - An American writer on Burma once said that Kyi Maung, 79, the vice chairman of the National League for Democracy, is the man most responsible for leading the NLD to its overwhelming victory in the election in May 1990 while other NLD leaders were in detention.

An elderly figure who cannot hide his fondness for good humour and philosophy, Kyi Maung is widely considered to be one of the most prominent members of the 10-strong NLD Central Executive Committee which includes chairman U Aung Shwe, Vice Chairman U Tin Oo, Secretary-General Aung San Suu Kyi and treasurer U Lwin.

At the outbreak of World War II, young Kyi Maung joined the Burma Independence Army and later rose to the rank of colonel. But he was forced into retirement while serving as the commander of the Southwestern Command after opposing the military takeover of 1962.

"His pension is very small. It's only 1,000 kyats," said wife Daw Kyi Kyi who offered part of their house for rent to a South Korean family to support the family. One American dollar at the market rate is currently worth about 230 kyat.

Kyi Maung, a veteran politician who was repeatedly imprisoned by successive Burmese military rulers for a total of about 12 years since his forced retirement in 1963, gave an exclusive interview to The Nation at his house in a lane off Kaba Aye Pagoda Road in Rangoon on Aug 14. 

Below are excerpts from the interview.

Has the July meeting between NLD chairman U Aung Shwe and SLORC First Secretary Gen Khin Nyunt produced some results?

I think it was a step forward. They have never talked to us like that day. It was very cordial. We considered the talk very significant. It came from Khin Nyunt.

Will further talks include Aung San Suu Kyi?

We have told them that in future talks if they decide that they should be meaningful - they cannot keep her out of the scene. Their perception of her is completely mistaken - that she is obstinate, strong headed. It is not true. She is quite reasonable.

But the Slorc said Suu Kyi has repeatedly outmaneouvered the other members of the Central Executive Committee of NLD?

It is not true. You could invite them to sit in our meeting while we are having discussions. No, she is committed to going along with the opinion of the majority.

They said in some cases the committee had agreed on something but she suddenly changed the decisions?

No, no, not at all. I cannot recall such a situation. If she does, I for one, would walk out of the committee. When we walked out of the National Convention in November 1995, they presumed that she was the instigator. Not at all. She did not utter one word. Check it with Tin Oo. She did not even utter one word.

What happened?

She was new to the National Convention. She was released in July. Problems had already arisen inside the National Convention. So U Aung Shwe said the situation was unworkable there. It was conducted like a meeting to present seminar papers. They were comedies. We could not be there. We really wanted to discuss all of these [issues] but we were never allowed to present our agenda. They accused her of being behind us.

What about Burma's membership in Asean?

If the NLD had become the government in 1990, we would have really wooed Asean to receive us.

Our objection to it was that Asean should delay Burma's membership under such an unaccountable government. They are an illegitimate government. We wanted them to be accountable. This government does not recognise the popular vote. On principle, we are not against Burma joining Asean. The only thing we are asking is to have its membership delayed until after there is a dialogue within the country. That is the reason behind it.

As for trade sanctions, we do not want Burma getting poorer. We want the democratic world to put pressure on them, ask them for democratic change. That was the idea behind it. Now that Burma-has became a member of Asean, we have to recognise the facts and the reality. And we do. It is now up to Asean to persuade them.

But how do you perceive the undemocratic nature of some Asean countries like Indonesia for instance? What I'm trying to say is that the Slorc is not alone in Asean. It has Indonesia as a model.

But Indonesia even has relatively a free press which allows its people's voice to be heard. But here? Don't only take Slorc's nine years in existence. You have to add 26 years of military rule in this country. [Slorc] is the continuation of the Ne Win regime [since 1962].

But they say they are different from Ne Win. Under Ne Win the economy was really bad. Now the economy is open. You can see flights coming into Rangoon everyday. Cars and new buildings are on the streets?

No, no, it is worse now. The price of petrol has been raised seven times, 720 per cent last month. I had my own experience. I sent out my boy to buy two bottles of ink. It costs me 300 kyat for the two. I use fountain pens. How much was it, let's say? five years ago? If it was available then, maybe within the range of 20 kyat.

The Slorc is suggesting that the military could have 26 per cent of the seats, permanent seats, in the future parliament in Burma just as the Indonesian generals have?

I don't think it is going to take place in this country because of the ethnic minorities. We hear, maybe wrongly, but we hear that the ethnic minorities would fight because 25 per cent of the seats would be applied in their areas too. The Kachins, the Chins are suspicious that the Burmese would grow stronger.

How could we solve the stalemate in Burma?

The problem here is not very difficult compared to South Africa's Nelson Mandela and F W de Klerk. The situation here is very simple if you get to the root of this. When Slorc took power in 1988, in the aftermath of demonstrations which they suppressed violently, they said, "Alright, we're going to have polls." Then they set up the date, one-and a-half years away.

But the problem was that once the election was held and the party that won the majority was not theirs, they said we should draft the constitution first. They refused to hand over power. They established the National Convention only in 1992.

But then in the name of an open market economy they contacted foreign businessmen. They became richer and richer. They started to talk about keeping power. You can't compare this sort of scenario with the Indonesian scenario. There you have [Indonesian communist leader] D N Aidit who tried to stage a coup. I went to school in America with Gen Ahmad Yani. He was a close friend. Yani [Indonesian army chief in 1965] was killed during the coup and Suharto came to power. It is a different scenario. Here they are not keeping their original promises. These promises are their

You were arrested and harassed. You spent 12 years behind bars-seven during the Ne Win regime and another five under SLORC. Do you think you and your colleagues have the stamina to go on? Have you ever been tortured?

No, no, not on old person like me. But by the same question, you can ask Abel [Brig Gen David Oliver Abel, minister for National Planning and Economic Development] whether he could stand the stress? How long can he survive under the strain and the peace pressure? [giggling

Thailand is different. It could find someone who would come up with US$15 billion. Burma has great difficulty getting US$100 million.

In Indonesia, President Suharto has what is called the Berkeley Mafia, whose members advise him and work out the economy. But here? Abel?

Friday, August 08, 1997

Opposition comes from within

The Nation

WHEN the foreign ministers of the original Asean member countries established the grouping in 1967, they probably did not guess that the regional organisation would receive some of its most ardent criticism from its very own citizens.

"We were not born yet," laughed Augusto Miclat Jr, the Philippine activist who in 1994 organised the controversial Asia Pacific Conference on East Timor (APCET) in Manila, where Nobel laureate and East Timor resistance spokesman Jose Ramos-Horta and other internationally- recognised figures spoke about East Timor.

"People in the streets of Manila and Davao know more about East Timor than Asean," Miclat said.

Indonesian President Suharto reportedly ordered his aides to lodge protests against Philippine President Fidel Ramos, saying that the meeting was intended to corner Indonesia and should be prevented.

In a bid to put real pressure on Manila to thwart the activists, Indonesia even cancelled a plan to arrange a meeting between businessmen from the countries and threatened to stop the ongoing peace process in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao by pulling out of the Jakarta- brokered Moro dispute settlement.

Ramos, who initially said he could do nothing about the privately- sponsored seminar, finally bowed to the pressure and barred foreign participants from entering the Philippines. Officials from both countries cited "Asean solidarity and the principle of non-interference" to defend their actions.

"They used every trick in the book to cancel the conference," Miclat said on Wednesday, adding that such pressure was an example of how Asean had developed into "a political grouping [banded together] in response to criticism on human rights".

Indonesia invaded the tiny former Portuguese colony in 1975. Critics say Indonesian rule has led to the deaths of almost one third of East Timor's population of 750,000 due to ceaseless fighting, starvation and disease.

The United Nations does not recognise the Indonesian claim despite the unwavering support given to Jakarta by fellow Asean members Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and newly accepted members Burma and Laos.

"Asean has failed to deliver on the aims and principles of the [1967] Bangkok Declaration - the promotion of justice, freedom, peace and social progress. They have directly and indirectly suppressed people in East Timor, Burma and Cambodia," Malaysian Debbie Stothard of the Bangkok- based Alternative Asean Network on Burma said.

Stothard said a disturbing gap had emerged between Asean's original mission declaration and what it actually does. "The non-interference policy has overridden the principal issues."

According to Stothard, Asean governments ignored the civil rights movements of their respective countries as they attempted to create a regional economic boom that unfortunately has only advanced certain sections of the population.

"The strength of a region lies in its people. Large areas in Asean do not even have drinkable water, adequate education or social welfare," she said. Her words echoed Asean's declaration at the 1976 signing of the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia that people were much more important than economic success.

The treaty clearly stated that Asean would strive to achieve social justice, the development of low-income and rural populations, as well as peace, harmony and stability in the region. The treaty also stated that a concerted effort would be made to stamp out drug production and trafficking.

Stothard said the admission of Burma could be interpreted as a breach of this last part of the treaty. The military regime of Burma, notorious for heroin, has been accused by several international organisations and independent groups of protecting the business activities of Golden Triangle opium warlords.

"By accepting Burma, Suharto strengthened his grip on East Timor," Miclat said, explaining that Suharto needed allies like the State Law and Order Restoration Council (Slorc) to face the growing criticism of Indonesia on human rights issues.

Miclat and Stothard are not the only ones attacking Asean. Non- governmental organisations throughout Asean countries - such as Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur), Aliran (Penang), the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (Jakarta), Pijar Indonesia (Jakarta), the Philippines Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (Manila), Initiatives for International Dialogue (Davao), Forum Asia (Bangkok), Forum of the Poor (Bangkok) and the Singapore Democratic Party - are expressing their displeasure with the way their governments are running the show.

Most activists label Asean as an elitist club which does not involve the public in its activities. Harsher critics say Asean does nothing but maintain the status quo and protect authoritarian rulers like Suharto, former Singaporean prime minister Lee Kuan Yew and Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Muhammad.

"In rural areas no one knows the name Asean. Even NGO members don't know much about Asean," Koul Panha, of the Phnom Penh-based Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association, said.

Observers say activists' numbers have grown mainly because better educated generations have emerged with the growing economies of Southeast Asia. These urban and often western-educated activists want their governments to listen to their opinions not only on local politics but also on foreign affairs.

"Let's build our own Asean," Indonesian poet, journalist and dissident Goenawan Mohamad said half-jokingly at a seminar in Jakarta on the admittance of Burma into Asean last month.

On the plus side, activists in cities like Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Manila and Jakarta believe that Asean's stubbornness on East Timor, Burma and Cambodia has helped prod dissidents into uniting.

Miclat jokingly dubbed Asean the "Association of Suharto's Exclusively Aligned Nations", saying that Suharto had obviously bullied Ramos and later did the same thing to then Malaysian deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim over a similar seminar Miclat held in Kuala Lumpur in 1996.

Miclat was deported from Kuala Lumpur and some of his Malaysian colleagues were jailed by police overnight. Miclat, who apparently does not have the word "quit" in his vocabulary, said the next meeting would take place in Bangkok in February of next year. Who will be the next politician to be bullied by Suharto, he wonders, and when will the people of East Timor cease being victims of Asean "solidarity"?

Thursday, July 31, 1997

Diskusi Burma: Dari Represi Hingga Malnutrisi

Jakarta, Kabar dari Pijar (31/7)

Secara resmi Burma diterima sebagai anggota ASEAN pada pertemuan para menlu di Kuala Lumpur (23/7) Malaysia. Tentu saja banyak kalangan aktivis pembebasan rakyat Burma yang menyesali keputusan tersebut. Mengingat rejim SLORC menjalankan politik represi dan mempersulit gerak perjuangan demokratisasi oleh Suu Kyi dengan NLD-nya.

Bertempat di gedung Teater Utan Kayu di Jl. Utan Kayu Jakarta Timur, digelar acara diskusi tentang Burma pada Rabu (30/7). Diskusi agaknya sedikit mendadak diadakan, sebagai bagian dari penyambutan kedatangan aktivis Burma di Jakarta. Diskusi yang dimulai pada 16.00 ini menampilkan pembicara Coki Naipospos dari PIJAR Indonesia, Debbie Stothard dari Alternative Asean Network on Burma (ALTSEAN) yang berkedudukan di Bangkok, dan Asvi Marwan Adam dari LIPI.

Moderator Andreas Harsono dari ISAI menjelaskan bahwa diskusi kali ini secara khusus memang membahas kondisi dan situasi Burma aktual, khususnya berkait dengan masuknya negara tersebut dalam ASEAN. Andreas pertama-tama meminta argumentasi dari Coki mengapa PIJAR Indonesia aktif menyuarakan kepentingan rakyat Burma di ASEAN.

Menjawab hal itu, Coki memaparkan lima alasan yang menjadi landasan PIJAR. Pertama; terkait dengan fakta historis Burma sebagai pendukung kemerdekaan Indonesia dan aktif membantu lewat jalur material berupa senjata maupun diplomasi internasional. Termasuk pada 1946 Jenderal Ne Win mengontak Nehru agar pertemuan negara-negara Asia baru merdeka membicarakan secara khusus dan mengakui kemerdekaan Indonesia. Kedua; sebagai jawaban atas kritik Herbert Feith pada aktivis Indonesia yang terlalu inward looking. Ketiga; Meneruskan tradisi para pejuang pendahulu yang aktif bekerjasama dalam membebaskan negara-negara Asia Afrika dari cengkeraman imperialisme-kapitalisme. "Kalau para pejuang dahulu seperti Sukarno, Nehru, U Nu, Chou En Lay dan Nasser bisa bekerjasama, kenapa kita tidak?" tanya Coki. Keempat; perlunya konsolidasi jaringan aktifis gerakan pro-demokrasi mengingat semakin kuatnya 'solidaritas' antar rejim otoritarian di Asia Tenggara. Dari yang kasar seperti Indonesia dan Malaysia, hingga yang soft otoritarian seperti Filipina dan Thailand. Kelima; komitmen pada prinsip universalitas nilai-nilai HAM yang harus dimiliki setiap manusia tanpa mengenal perbedaan.

Sedangkan Debbie Stothard memaparkan aktifitas ALTSEAN sebagai institusi mediasi bagi para aktivis pembebasan rakyat Burma dari seluruh dunia. Ia kembali menegaskan pentingnya kerjasama di antara mereka. Mengingat kerja sama para penguasa ASEAN tidak hanya dalam bentuk loby dan diplomasi internasional, melainkan sudah pada kerjasama intelijen. "Seperti penangkalan masuknya Syed Husin Ali di Bandara Sukarno-Hatta", ungkapnya memberi bukti. Sebagaimana diketahui, Husin Ali adalah Presiden Parti Rakyat Malaysia (PRM) yang pernah di penjara tanpa pengadilan dari 1974 sampai 1980 berdasarkan UU Keamanan Dalam Negeri Malaysia. Ia terkenal vokal berbicara demokratisasi Malaysia dan concern pada masalah Burma.

Sebelum sesi dialog, Asvi Marwan Adam diberi kesempatan berbicara. Ia lalu menceritakan pengalamannya selama kunjungan di Burma. Disebabkan totalitarianisme, di sana tidak ada kesenjangan ekonomi mencolok antar warga dan warga patuh sekali pada hukum. "Di sana miskin sama-sama miskin. Contohnya saya bertemu menteri yang mengenakan sarung seperti rakyat kebanyakan. Lalu lintas teratur dan orang setelah melanggar tidak akan pergi sampai polisi datang menyelesaikan. Mungkin karena ketakutan akibat represi selama ini" ungkapnya memberi contoh.

Dalam sesi tanya jawab, kebanyakan peserta menyambut baik ajakan untuk lebih memperhatikan Burma. Diva dari STI&K mengemukakan fakta hubungan yang terjadi selama ini di ASEAN adalah government to government, bukan people to people. "Jadi di situ lebih terasa warna kepentingan elit pemerintahan, seperti bisnis keluarga Suharto di Burma" komentarnya. Sedangkan mahasiswa bernama Haikal mengkritisi argumentasi Asian values sebagai senjata penangkal dari para pejabat ASEAN terhadap isu universalitas HAM dan kedaulatan rakyat.

Coki dalam kesempatan menjawab membenarkan adanya retorika Asian values/Asian ways yang dalam buku Richard Robinson berinti tiga hal: Harmoni, hirarki dan konsensus. Menurutnya, diantara berbagai solidaritas regional seperti Amerika Latin dan Kaukasus misalnya, hanya ASEAN yang senantiasa menampilkan penguatan rasa identitas diri secara berlebihan. "Retorika yang dimainan ASEAN ini di masa depan amatlah berbahaya. Mengingat akan makin mempertajam kemungkinan terjadinya apa yang dalam tesis Samuel Huntington sebagai benturan peradaban Timur vs Barat (Clash of Civilization) menjadi kenyataan".

Selanjutnya Debbie menyambung bahwa konsensus yang konon merupakan Asian ways adalah omong kosong belaka. Ia memberi contoh Para menteri luar negeri mengambil langkah voting guna menentukan masuk tidaknya Myanmar ke dalam ASEAN. "Ini satu bukti kontradiksi atas klaim Asian ways yang salah satunya adalah konsensus/mufakat" tegas Debbie.

Diskusi pada akhirnya mengarah pada pemaparan Debbie terhadap kondisi Myanmar. Ia yang pernah tinggal lama di sana menolak segala fakta yang terlihat baik di permukaan sebagaimana disaksikan Aswin. Baginya kriminalitas amat menakutkan karena mayoritas rakyat tak berpendidikan dan menganggur. Sejak 1988 ekspor candu ke seluruh dunia ditangani langsung oleh SLORC. Korupsi merajalela sebagai dampak ketiadaan kontrol rakyat.

Anggaran belanja negara yang dikuasai junta militer sebanyak 40% digunakan belanja senjata, dan hanya 4% pembiayaan pendidikan yang mengakibatkan banyak sekolah terpaksa tutup. Prostitusi menunjukkan peningkatannya, hingga dari 48 juta penduduk Burma, 2% nya positif mengidap HIV. Dan karena rendahnya kepedulian pada sektor kesehatan, setengah dari seluruh balita Burma mengalami malnutrisi.