Saturday, February 22, 1997

Suharto's Burma Trip Could Spark Militarism, Warns Opposition Leader

By Andreas Harsono 
The Nation 

Jakarta -- An opposition figure has questioned the purpose of President Suharto visiting the military regime in Burma, speculating that the visit might revitalise fascism and militarism in the historically-troubled southeast Asian region. 

Indonesian politician Sri Bintang Pamungkas told The Nation yesterday that the State Law and Order Restoration Council (Slorc) in Rangoon had long imported military doctrines and techniques from Jakarta. '

'Suharto is now looking for friends to excuse the practice of fascism in Indonesia, to legitimise the practice of having only one single state ideology, one single party system and widespread intelligence services," Pamungkas said. 

The former legislator said that former fascist-communist countries in southeast Asia, which include Burma, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, could easily adopt a renewed fascist-militaristic ideology. 

Suharto arrived in Rangoon yesterday from Vientiane on the last leg of a tour to Cambodia, Laos and Burma. 

The Indonesian president, who rose to power in 1965, visited Burma in 1974 during the rule of Burmese strongman Ne Win. 

According to Pamungkas, the Slorc generals had adopted the Indonesian doctrine of ''Dwifungsi Abri" which literally means the ''Armed Forces' Dual Function" and principally justifies the involvement of active officers in politics. 

An Indonesian envoy in Rangoon once said the Burmese government would like to imitate the Indonesian government in three key areas: the Indonesian state ideology Pancasila, the 1945 constitution and the Dwifungsi Abri. 

Rangoon has also learned from Jakarta sophisticated methods to suppress dissent as well as intelligence techniques to divide-and-rule the opposition in a bid to suppress Burmese opposition leader and Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. 

''Suharto's move is very dangerous. He could incite the rise of militarism here. He might build Asean [The Association of Southeast Asian Nations] into a fascist-military block," said Pamungkas, referring to the Vietnam War, the communism threat in Malaysia and southern Thailand, border conflicts between Indonesia and Malaysia in the 1960s, as well as the civilian war in Cambodia which concluded with the end of the Cold War. 

Indonesian officials said that during his visit Suharto would sign a memorandum of understanding between Citra Lamtoro Gung, a business group controlled by his eldest daughter Siti Hardiyanti Rukmana, and the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings. 

Indonesia has already begun cooperating with Burma in the cement and tobacco industries and trading. Indonesia's PT Semen Cibinong said last month that it would invest US$210 million (Bt5.25 billion) in building cement plants in Burma. 

Other observers said Suharto wants to give his support to Laos, Cambodia and Burma, which are expected to enter Asean in July. 

Asean's current members are Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. 

A human rights campaigner said in a separate interview that Suharto's support for the military regime in Rangoon is supposed to be answered with broader Asean support of Indonesia's stance on East Timor. 

''It's parallel. Suharto wants to get wider support on East Timor. Burma wants to get Asean support as well as deal with international pressure," said Bonar Tigor Naipospos of the Jakarta-based Pijar rights organisation. 

Pijar is among a few Indonesian NGOs which openly supported and displayed Suu Kyi's picture during last year's pro-democracy street protests in Jakarta in support of Indonesian leader Megawati Sukarnoputri. The protests ended in street riots on July 27. 

Naipospos said Suharto needs Burma, especially after East Timorese Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo and resistance leader Jose Ramos-Horta received the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize Award in December. 

''Suharto wants to stress his stance that other countries, especially Western ones, should not intervene in the internal affairs of countries like Burma or Indonesia," he said, adding that despite freer trade and globalisation, Suharto wants to stick to his own rule that politics should be separated from human rights and democratisation issues. 

Naipospos also said that the international community should realise now that Suharto had become the ''main guardian" of the Burmese generals. ''If they want to put pressure on Burma, they have to put on their agendas the name of Suharto as well," he added. 

The mouthpiece of the Burmese military regime, the New Light of Myanmar newspaper, once dubbed the relationship between Indonesia and Burma, ''Two Nations with a Common Identity" as it reported a sharp increase in the exchange of official visits between the two governments. 

Indonesian officials including 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 and the youngest son of President Suharto also led a high-profile business delegation to Rangoon. 

Slorc leader Senior Gen Than Shwe also met Suharto in Jakarta in June 1995 and in November 1996 while his aide, Lt Gen Khin Nyunt, who heads the intelligence service, travelled more frequently to Jakarta. 

The Burmese embassy in Jakarta is the largest among Burma's in southeast Asia, demonstrating that Jakarta is crucial for Slorc. The Burmese ambassador, 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 Asean Secretariat.

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