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Bishops, rights groups bow out of council

Agence France Presse - December 18, 1998

Jakarta – Indonesia's national human rights body and the Catholic church have both bowed out of a state security council announced last week by President B.J. Habibie, saying they thought their membership was inappropriate, reports said Friday.

"It would be inappropriate that the rights commission be a member of the council," National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas Ham) chairman Marzuki Darusman was quoted by the Jakarta Post as saying. Darsuman said the commission's decision not to accept its allotted seat had been conveyed to State Secretary Akbar Tanjung by letter.

The Post also quoted sources from the Indonesian Bishops' Council (KWI) as saying it too had decided not to accept its allotted seat in the council, citing the Catholic tenet of non-involvement in state affairs.

"The government should not confuse the churches' duty and authority with that of the state," the source was quoted as saying, adding that in the past the KWI had also rejected offers of a place on the Supreme Advisory Council and the people's Consultative Assembly. Neither Komnas Ham nor KWI officials were immediately available for comment on the report.

Last week Habibie rebuffed calls by the governor of the National Resilience Institute, Lieutenant General Agum Gumelar, and Moslem moderate leader Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid for a national dialogue to combat growing unrest in the country.

But a day later he announced the formation of the 34-seat Council for Enforcement of Security and Order, with himself at the head and to be run on a day-to-day basis by Armed Forces chief General Wiranto. Other members of the council include 23 cabinet ministers, the national police chief, the head of the state intelligence body, and the leaders of religious councils. Observers and diplomats have questioned the effectiveness of the new council, saying lines of authority had been "dangerously blurred."

Habibie, whose seven month tenure has been plagued by student protests unrest and riots, justified his rejection of a national dialogue involving figures both inside and outside the government, by saying it would complicate an already complicated situation.

However he met privately with Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid on Sunday for talks in which the Moslem leader said he had told Habibie that setting a firm date for the election of a president would help calm the restive atmosphere in the country.

Habibie has already set June 7 as the date for general elections, the first since the fall of former president Suharto in May. But he has only said that a new president should be installed by November 1999. Under the existing constitution, a president is elected not by direct vote but by the People's Consultative Assembly, the country's highest legislative body.