SUHARTO EXIT HAS LITTLE IMPACT ON PNG-INDONESIA TIES

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As long as there are no border incidents and no drastic change in PNG- Australian relations, PNG can expect a continuation of the present cordial relations with post-Suharto Indonesia.

By James Chin

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (May 28, 1998 - The National)---With the exit of Suharto, what can PNG expect in terms of its relationship with Indonesia?

Is the "Look North" policy still valid in light of what has happened in our neighboring state?

To answer these questions requires a degree of prognosis into Indonesia politics over the next few months.

Essentially there are four scenarios:

The first scenario is an alliance between the Indonesian army, ABRI, and the Indonesian bureaucracy led by its technocrats. The new cabinet suggests that President Habibie is pursuing this scenario.

At its most basic level, this option is simply used to buy time for the ruling Golkar party and ABRI. The thinking is that by bringing in just enough political reforms to please the Indonesian polity, Mr. Habibie and the traditional political elite will be able to win the next election and regain control of the Indonesian state.

This is former President Suharto and ABRI's preferred choice, as it will mean the least amount of change to the political system.

The only problem is that the students and opposition groups can see through this obvious plan and will not accept a Habibie victory at the polls.

If Mr. Habibie wins, we can expect more protests and violence.

The second scenario is an alliance between ABRI and major opposition figures.

Under this scenario, ABRI will drop its support for Mr. Habibie and link up with major opposition figures such as Dr. Emil Salim, Dr. Amein Rais and Abdulrahim Wahid and, perhaps, Megawati Sukarnoputri.

ABRI will only do this if it feels that Mr. Habibie is incapable of generating political legitimacy over the next few months. By linking up with the opposition, ABRI will be assured of its central position in Indonesian politics when an opposition led administration takes over.

The problem with this scenario is that the opposition figures are more interested in the coming elections than merely forming a new government with ABRI.

All the main opposition figures want to test their political strength in what will hopefully be free and open elections. They know that if they win by a landslide, which is almost a certainty, this will translate into political legitimacy which will allow them to deal with ABRI as equals.

If they join ABRI now in forming a new administration, it can be taken as certain that ABRI will hold the dominant position.

The third scenario is a government of national unity consisting of the opposition, Mr. Habibie and Golkar, and ABRI.

This scenario is unlikely to happen because all the major opposition figures have already refused Mr. Habibie's offer of cabinet positions. Almost all the opposition figures do not want to spoil their electoral prospects by associating themselves with the Habibie regime prior to the elections.

The recent release of several high profile political detainees has done nothing to bring the opposition closer to the Habibie regime.

In fact, the reverse is true; the release of these high profile political prisoners has hardened the position of the opposition figures as they all try to outdo each other as the champion of the "people's power."

The final scenario is a total breakdown of the Indonesian state. This will trigger a military takeover by ABRI, a repeat of the events in 1965 when Suharto stepped into power in the midst of total chaos created by the failed coup led by leftwing elements.

The only positive thing to be said about this scenario is that if ABRI staged a military coup, it will do so reluctantly. ABRI knows that it does not have the capability to impose martial law throughout the 14,000-island archipelago on a long-term basis.

ABRI, moreover, knows that a military coup will mean an immediate cessation of any economic rescue packages from multilateral agencies such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the World Bank, or economic aid from developed nations such as Japan, the United States and Australia.

Under any of the scenarios described above, there will be little or no effect on PNG's relations with Indonesia as none of the scenarios will impact on PNG directly.

Even under the last scenario, the most PNG can expect will be some form of mass exodus across the border into PNG.

More likely than not, these people will be leaving Irian Jaya primarily for economic reasons, not political reasons. Most of the active OPM political activists are already living in PNG or abroad, mostly in Australia.

In all probability, PNG's relationship with Indonesia will not change significantly no matter who comes to power in Indonesia over the short term.

The reappointment of Ali Alatas as Indonesia's Foreign Minister suggests that the new regime understands the importance of continuity in foreign policy management.

Mr. Alatas is widely respected in the international arena and Indonesia needs all the friends it can muster now in the midst of its worst political and economic crisis since independence.

ASEAN will remain the cornerstone of Indonesia's foreign policy, followed closely by the Non-Aligned Movement, the Organization of Islamic Conference, Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) and relations with Australia.

PNG will only feature in two areas in Indonesia's foreign policy outlook: Border issues in relation to Irian Jaya and PNG's importance as a buffer zone between Australia and Indonesia.

As long as there are no border incidents and no drastic change in PNG-Australian relations, PNG can expect a continuation of the present cordial relations with Indonesia.

The preoccupation in Indonesian elite circles now is how to reform the political system without social chaos.

In such a climate, relations with PNG do not rate highly in the priority list of reforms. While the Indonesians will no doubt lay out the red carpet treatment for Prime Minister Bill Skate, the PNG delegation should not expect too much.

As long as the Habibie administration is seen as a transitional government, the Indonesians will be unlikely to commit themselves to any long-term deals or any MOUs outside the usual cultural exchanges and some simple trade deals.

If there are any lessons PNG can learn from the Indonesian crisis, it is the lesson that honesty in public life, transparency in public policy, respect for the rule of law and public accountability provide the best way to earn popular trust and legitimacy in bad times as well as good.

Mr. Habibie's chances of staying on as President after the elections he has promised within the next 12 months will be dependent on how well he will be able to fulfill these criteria.

Dr. James Chin teaches Southeast Asian Politics at the University of Papua New Guinea

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WEST PAPUA SUPPORTERS MARCH TO INDONESIA'S PNG EMBASSY

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (May 27, 1998 - The National)---Pro-West Papua demonstrators marched to the Indonesian embassy here yesterday calling for the recognition of the Indonesian province of Irian Jaya as an independent state.

They were to have presented a petition to this effect signed by pro-independence leaders Michael Kareth and Francis Mirino, PNG Council of Churches general secretary Reverend Leva Kila Pat and West Sepik Governor John Tekwie, who is parliamentary leader of the Indigenous Peoples Movement Party.

Mr. Kareth and lawyer/activist Powes Parkop said during the gathering that copies of the petition were being given to Prime Minister Bill Skate and Opposition Leader Bernard Narokobi.

Indonesian embassy staff late yesterday said there was no demonstration and denied receiving any petition from the protesters. "There was no march, no demonstration and we have not received any petition," an embassy spokesman said.

The petition to the world leaders called for them to "accept, respect and recognize the rights of the people of West Papua as an independent state of West Papua New Guinea.''

A similar protest last week was stopped by police who said it was illegal assembly.

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MELANESIAN DISCOVERER STARTS CRUISES TO JAYAPURA

MADANG, Papua New Guinea (May 30, 1998 - The National)---Papua New Guinea's only cruise vessel, the Melanesian Discoverer, owned by Melanesian Tourist Services, successfully completed its inaugural cruise to Jayapura, Indonesia, last weekend with a full compliment of passengers.

Among the VIPs aboard were East Sepik Governor Sir Michael Somare and Lady Somare, Moresby South MP Lady Carol Kidu, British High Commissioner Charles Drake-Francis and his wife, and the wife of the Australian High Commissioner, Mrs. Robyn Irvine.

The 42 passengers included expatriate and PNG nationals and 12 officers and crew including Melanesian managing director, Peter Barter.

The cruise started from Madang to Wewak and then cleared customs, immigration and quarantine at Vanimo before the two-hour cruise to Jayapura where they were met by the PNG Consul-General Egbert Yalu and representatives from the Irian Jaya Governor's office, after a welcome singsing and formalities where the VIPs traveling on the vessel met the deputy governor and gifts were exchanged.

In the evening, a special dinner was held for the VIPs while the other passengers were treated to dinner by Mr. Barter at a Chinese restaurant.

On Sunday, the passengers took to buses arranged by the Melanesian Discoverer's agent in Jayapura for a full day tour of Jayapura and Lake Sentani which included visits to the large crocodile farm, the cultural center, Douglas MacArthur monument and lookout, a Hindu temple, artifact shops and a boat ride on Lake Sentani to an island where most passengers bought painted tapa along with other handicrafts.

The ship left Jayapura at 6 p.m. on Sunday to Vanimo and then Wewak.

In the late afternoon the next day the ship made another short stop at Blupblup, one of the three islands off the mouth of the Sepik River and then sailed to Madang.

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