15 Jul 2011

Renewed trouble in the provinces

Renewed trouble in the provinces

In December 1999, the separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM), a 5,000-strong guerrilla force, effectively gained control of much of Aceh province. President Wahid rejected demands by the army to impose martial law to put down the GAM. In mid-December 1999 more sectarian fighting broke out in Maluku (the Moluccas). The riots were reported to be between Muslims and Christians, and brought the number of victims of religious killings in the archipelago in 1999 up to 1,500. The conflict provoked demonstrations in Jakarta; some protested against the government's failure to stop the fighting, while Muslims there called for a holy war against the Christians in Maluka, on whom they blamed the slaughter of hundreds of Islamic faith.In January 2000, the EU lifted its ban on arms sales to Indonesia, which had been imposed four months earlier during the violence in East Timor. Criticism of the EU's move was based on the idea that it could
endanger Indonesia's fragile democracy, but President Wahid denied that the country was about to fragment, and dismissed rumours of an impending military coup, but seemed unable to control the spreading violence in the territories of Lombok and Bintan.

May 2000 saw the first step towards ending 24 years of confict in the province of Aceh, as Indonesia and separatist rebels signed a three-month ceasefire agreement. However, the agreement did not tackle the issue of sovereignty, and the Indonesian government continued to rule out recognition of Aceh as a separate state, saying that the agreement would not lead to a withdrawal of troops from the province. In November, there were further clashes between pro-independence residents and security forces.
Further violence in Jakarta saw mobs attack the city's Chinese community following a decline in the economy, which found the currency at its lowest level for seven months. Religious violence between Muslims and Christians continued in the Maluku islands, bringing the toll of casualties resulting from the violence for the period January 1999 to May 2000 to over 3,000. The Indonesian province of Irian Jaya declared independence on 5 June 2000. President Wahid stated, however, that the declaration was unrepresentative of true feeling in the province. Indonesia experienced disruption in another form when an earthquake measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale struck the island of Sumatra in June, killing more than 100 people, and causing multiple injuries and widespread homelessness.
Continued religious fighting in the Maluku islands in July 2000 led to the declaration of a state of emergency and the admission from the Indonesian military that some of its soldiers had taken part in the violence. In Jakarta, a number of bombs were discovered, belying the atmosphere of political instability. Conflict and political tension continued to drive down the value of the currency, and in July 2000 Christian leaders in the Maluku islands appealed to the UN for intervention. This was ruled out by President Wahid, despite increasing criticism, coming even from his own government. As increasing numbers of armed Muslims attempted to travel to the area to join the religious fighting, the government warned that the war could lead to the nation's collapse. Wahid's policies to deal with the situation included a shuffled cabinet and the delegation of some authority to the vice-president, Megawati Sukarnoputri, which included the daily running of government.
In October the UN refused to send aid workers back to West Timor, where three UN officials had been murdered in September. An official claimed that militia gangs were still holding thousands of refugees hostage.
The same month, international aid donors pledged US$5.3 billion to finance the country's large budget deficit. This was in addition to an existing IMF loan of US$5 billion. In return the government pledged to reform the economy and act against the militias in West Timor, promptly arresting the leader of the most powerful militia.
Violence in October left more that 30 people dead on Irian Jaya in clashes between native Papuans and the police. Further clashes occurred in December in both Irian Jaya and Aceh.

The trial of Suharto

The trial of ex-president Suharto, charged with stealing US$571 million during his presidency, began on 31 August 2000. The charges were dropped in September on grounds of ill-health, but in early November Jakarta's high court overturned this judgement and ruled that the trial should recommence. In February 2001, the Supreme Court overturned the high court's ruling, declaring that Suharto was indeed unfit to stand trial.

Christmas bombing

13 people were killed and 95 injured by 15 bombs, which exploded within minutes of each other outside churches across Indonesia on Christmas Eve, 2000. No one claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Towards impeachment

In January 2001, violent conflict erupted in Indonesia between supporters and opponents of President Wahid in response to calls for his resignation over two multi-million dollar corruption scandals. As members of parliament agreed to investigate the allegations of corruption, 10,000 students broke down the gates of the Indonesian parliament and engaged with riot police. In February, Wahid fired his justice minister for publicly siding with critics of his financial affairs. Thousands of Wahid's supporters stormed the offices of political opposition parties in Surabaya, Indonesia's second-biggest city, and East Java, and called for the death of politicians who wanted him impeached. However, the Indonesian parliament voted overwhelmingly to proceed with the impeachment of President Wahid in May. The vote was the third stage in a complicated four-part impeachment process, and around 1,000 supporters of President Wahid stormed the parliament compound in protest; police opened fire on the demonstrators and at least two people were killed. Determined to stave off impeachment, Wahid fired four Cabinet members and the police chief on 1 June, and claimed that he wanted to make peace with his deputy, Sukarnoputri, who had spurned an earlier power-sharing offer. Wahid became increasingly politically isolated on 12 July 2001 when his order for the arrest of his chief of police, General Bimantoro, was defied by the police force, who formed a protective cordon around Bimantoro's home. In response, Wahid reiterated his threat to declare a state of emergency if members of parliament did not abandon moves to impeach him. However, on 23 July, the Indonesian parliament voted to impeach President Wahid, and to install vice-president Megawati Sukarnoputri. Wahid had tried to avoid impeachment by dissolving parliament the day before, and declaring a state of emergency. However, the move backfired when ministers resigned and the military refused to enforce the decree. Despite the successful impeachment, many liberals were concerned about Sukarnoputri's conservative policies and her close links with the military. Hamzah Has became vice-president.

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