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.