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Suharto says stand up to human rights pressures

Straits Times - June 17, 1997

Susan Sim, Jakarta – The pressure from the human rights lobby in developed countries is getting stronger and developing countries should band together to counter it, President Suharto said yesterday.

Speaking to local reporters on board a plane bringing him back from an inaugural summit of eight developing nations in Istanbul, he said developed countries often did not understand the problems poorer countries like Indonesia faced.

"You can see for yourself that the pressure is getting stronger. Against Indonesia, for instance, US congressman Kennedy has made a resolution on human rights in East Timor.

"So we have to prove to them that in Indonesia, we respect and carry out the principles of human rights in accordance with our system and our own understanding," he said.

It was his first public comment on US legislator Patrick Kennedy's attempt to introduce a Bill in Congress that could cut off military aid and training for Indonesia because of alleged human rights violations in East Timor.

In a pre-emptive move, the Indonesian leader had early this month pulled Indonesia out of a US military training programme and cancelled a planned purchase of nine F-16 fighter planes.

Announcing the decision at a press conference, Foreign Minister Ali Alatas had quoted Mr Suharto as citing "wholly unjustified criticisms" in Congress as one of the factors behind his decision.

In an interview with The Straits Times last week, shortly after the US House voted unanimously to approve a resolution condemning human rights abuses by Jakarta in the former Portuguese colony of East Timor, he denied that the Indonesian president had been angered by the congressional moves.

But reflecting a sense of national pride which the spat appeared to have stoked, Mr Alatas added: "One thing is sure ... that not only Indonesia but Asean countries in general are increasingly showing a capacity and a preparedness to take a stand on issues of principle when it comes to another country appearing to or trying to dictate its views on our policies." Solidarity among developing nations to stand up to the big powers was a theme Mr Suharto brought to the D-8 summit on Sunday, which saw the largely Muslim nations of Indonesia, Turkey, Pakistan, Nigeria, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Iran and Egypt agree to cooperate to strengthen their collective role in the global economy. In his address, he warned that developing countries could not expect their industrialised counterparts to share their technology voluntarily.

"The world situation in the post-Cold War era is marked by instability, confrontation and the persistent inequity and imbalance in economic relations between developed and developing countries, instead of a just and prosperous international order as developing countries had expected," the Jakarta Post quoted him as saying.

"Although there are international fora which earnestly discuss the plight of developing countries, their agenda turns out to be dominated by extraneous issues like social clauses and intellectual property rights," he added.

Yesterday, he stressed that "principles of humanity" would be the guidelines for the D-8 group.