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Annan winds up a protest-peppered visit

Agence France Presse - February 16, 2000

Jakarta – UN Secretary General Kofi Annan wound up a protest-peppered, two-day visit to Indonesia Wednesday urging the government not to use force against separatist rebels and warning Jakarta to bring East Timor rights abusers to trial or face UN action.

Annan was scheduled to head early Thursday to East Timor, on what UN staff there have described as an intensely personally-important trip for the man instrumental in sanctioning the dispatch of UN troops there.

His last appointment in Jakarta was a dinner at the palace with President Abdurrahman Wahid, Vice President Megawati Sukarnoputri and senior cabinet ministers.

In a back-breaking schedule involving calls on ministers, human rights bodies, and the president, Annan's message remained the same – Indonesia must bring those responsible for the wave of murder, arson and forced deportations in East Timor to trial. And if it does not, the UN Security Council will move to set up an international war crimes tribunal.

Not all Indonesians were happy with the message. A small but vocal group of 15 protestors dogged Annan as he visited the headquarters of the National Human Rights Commission headquarters, where some 75 police stood guard.

Shouting for him stop "playing Rambo," the 15 students, from the nationalist Forum for Upholding the Nation's Sovereignty stood behind a banner reading "We're happy you came to Indonesia, but we'd rather you were back in New York." Waving a placard showing Annan as a Rambo figure with the slogan "America's ally," they said Indonesia had the right to defend its own country and accused the rights commission of "prosecuting people who are innocent."

A special team from the commission has recommended the attorney general's office here probe 33 people, including six top generals, for last year's atrocities in East Timor.

After meeting Wahid earlier, Annan warned the Security Council would have the right to convene an international war crimes tribunal if those guilty of involvement in the East Timor violence were not tried in Indonesia. It was the bluntest statement yet made here by Annan, who has so far praised Jakarta's efforts to investigate the violence. "Of course if that doesn't happen the council has the right to refer it to [an international tribunal]," he said. "We are all aware that the government has begun a judicial process to make [sure] ... those who are responsible for the violence are brought to justice and I think that process is taking its course," he said.

In a speech later to the Indonesian Council of World Affairs Annan sought to allay fears that the United Nations was pro-separatist.

He also urged Jakarta to forsake the use of force against two virulent separatist movements in the provinces of Irian Jaya and Aceh. "It may well feel to some of you as if Indonesia's very existence is under attack from covert forces which believe the country is too large, and want to break it up," Annan said. But separatist movements "are political problems, and as such ... require political solutions."

Since East Timor gained independence from Indonesia last year through a UN-organized ballot, Jakarta has been adamant it will not bow to the demands of separatists in Irian Jaya and Aceh.

On Tuesday police violently broke up a crowd pelting the UN mission here with eggs and tomatoes, blaming Annan for the loss of East Timor. The same day police blocked two busloads of Irian Jayans, trying to reach Annan to ask for help in their separatist cause, and on Wednesday some 100 Acehnese students asked his help to talk to the government to halt the violence there.

In a petition to Annan, the protestors urged the UN to send a task force to Aceh to establish a "relief zone" – an area declared free of intervention by both the separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM) and the Indonesian military.

A decade of harsh military crackdowns against the rebels left 5,000 children orphaned and 2,000 women widowed in Aceh, a staunchly Muslim province on the northern tip of Sumatra island.

"Please do not think ... the United Nations is predisposed in favour of separatism, or that its purpose is to break up large states into smaller ones. On the contrary, the purpose of the United Nations is to enable peoples to live together without conflict," he said.