A year in Indonesia

Reporter: Tim Palmer
7.30 Report
Australian Broadcasting Corporation
LOCATION: http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2003/s1019124.htm
Broadcast: 31/12/2003

MARK BANNERMAN: Now to the final end of year report from the ABC's foreign correspondents.

Tonight ... Indonesia.

The ties between Australia and the world's largest Muslim nation were always going to be strained during a year that saw the war with Iraq and the trials of key figures involved in the Bali bombings.

Domestically, Indonesia continued to be wracked by separatist tensions with no end in sight to conflicts in Aceh and West Papua.

President Megawati seemed to retreat further into her shell and 2004 looks set to be another turbulent year for our largest neighbour.

This report from the ABC's Jakarta correspondent, Tim Palmer.

TIM PALMER: Barely a few hours into 2003, and new year's day began with the release from a Jakarta prison of the notorious people smuggler, Abu Quassey, accused of sending more than 350 people to their deaths on the ill-fated boat, labelled as SIEV-X by Australia.

He was eventually deported to Egypt and, as the year closed, sentenced to seven years jail for manslaughter.

People smuggling and asylum seekers re-emerged as an issue for the Australian and Indonesian governments as the year went on.

Australia became concerned that Indonesian officials may have fuelled and provisioned Vietnamese boats that in the end failed to make it to Australia anyway.

Then a boatload of Kurdish Turks that did briefly pull up on Melville Island's shores before being shunted to back to Indonesia embarrassed Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and Attorney-General Amanda Vanstone who had to concede they'd been wrong when they announced that the men had never told Australian officials they wanted asylum.

But the issue that dominated Australian-Indonesian relations this year was the pursuit of Islamic extremists and justice for the victims of Bali.

Some of those victims returned to the island to deliver painful evidence against the accused.

JASON McCARTNEY, BALI BOMBING SURVIVOR: I didn't want to be up there crying poor but I had to do that today to get the message across of how much it's really affected me.


It was about us today.

I think that what we were doing today was for all Australian people.

TIM PALMER: The key defendants, Amrozi and his brother, Mukhlas, and Imam Samudra, were defiant inside the court and vitriolic about the US and Australia outside it.

Amrozi, smiling to the end, even penned a song in jail with lyrics detailing his own personal version of jihad.

Only the third brother, Ali Imron, was to show any remorse after theatrically revealing how he built the bombs and helped prepare the suicide bombers who triggered the Kuta carnage.

It spared him the death sentence but his fellow bombers were sentenced to go to the firing squad.

Others, like Idris, are likely to join the three already on death row.

More than 30 men have been brought to justice for their part in the attacks.

But still more remain on the run.

And in July, police in Semarang uncovered a massive cache of explosives and guns, enough for a number of Bali-style attacks according to one officer.

Seven more men were arrested there and accused of being part of a resurgent Jemaah Islamiah.

On August 5, any sense that that organisation might have been weakened by such arrests was shattered by another car bomb.

INDONESIAN MAN, BOMB VICTIM: There was a fire ball, a big fire ball.

It was dark and the people panicking everywhere.

REPORTER: What could you hear, people screaming?

INDONESIAN MAN, BOMB VICTIM: Screaming, and then tried to find another friend.

TIM PALMER: Once again it seemed a suicide bomber had triggered the attack, this time on Jakarta's Marriott Hotel, the victims largely Indonesian Muslims.

Behind the Marriott attack, familiar names from the Bali investigation -- Dr Azahari, Nordin Mohammad Top and Dulmatin -- all still at large, with evidence of newly discovered training camps in the Philippines in the past months and allegations that a future Jemaah Islamiah leadership was being trained in Pakistan, police suddenly stopped claiming to have broken the group.

SIDNEY JONES, INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP: I think, even now, people are almost taking for granted the fact that the organisation will be eventually eradicated with all these arrests.

And I think there's recruitment going on, I think it's still got an extensive support network across the country, so we're going to be have to be dealing with this organisation for a while to come.

TIM PALMER: Many of the key JI figures came from just a handful of pesantren, or Islamic schools, like this one set up by the radical cleric, Abu Bakar Bashir.

At the branch school in East Java associated with Amrozi, Ali Imron and Muklas, the ABC found that a student is free to wear a T-shirt of Bali bomb mastermind Imam Samudra -- not surprising when the headmaster voices these opinions about Amrozi.

ZAHARIAH, HEADMASTER, AL-ISLAM PESANTREN: (TRANSLATION): When I look at it from an Islamic point of view, he doesn't deserve the death penalty, he's no villain -- in fact, he should be called a hero.

TIM PALMER: And the ABC discovered the Marriott suicide bomber, Asmar, with his associates, plan to set up another radical group near their Sumatran home town.

Calls from Western governments for Islamic schools to be controlled, though, caused politicians in Jakarta to recoil.

SIDNEY JONES: Most of these schools have done nothing wrong and produce good citizens.

The worst that could happen here is that those schools get stigmatised because of the actions of a bunch of hot-heads and people that have the potential to become terrorists.

That said, there is a network of radical schools that needs to be uncovered and analysed and the recruitment that goes on within them stopped and I don't think anybody's come up with a good plan for doing that yet.

TIM PALMER: Jakarta's political difficulties wrestling with the extremists were shown most clearly when Abu Bakar Bashir was found at trial not to be the head of Jemaah Islamiah.

Sentenced only to four years' jail for sedition, he then had that conviction overturned on appeal and was given only three years for immigration offences.

Weak judges and a weak prosecution weren't helped by the absence of key witnesses held by the Americans and Singaporeans, compounding fears that the Jemaah Islamiah leader, Hambali, also held by the US, will never face trial or give evidence in Indonesia.

SIDNEY JONES: It's not good, but there are a lot more dangerous people out there and I think the efforts need to be stepped up to try and get some of those other people arrested.

But also I think we need to make sure that some of the people who are major figures within JI and took a major operational role don't get out as easily as Abu Bakar Bashir may.

TIM PALMER: In another Indonesian court, seven elite Kopassus soldiers were convicted over the murder of the 64-year-old West Papuan separatist leader, Theys Eluay, who's been strangled by the men after they offered to drive him home.

The judges may have found the soldiers guilty but, in a sign that little has changed in Indonesia's military culture, the army chief, General Ryacudu Ryamizard, later announced that his men were heroes.

Indonesia's human rights commissioners now accuse the army and police of murder, kidnapping, arson and the forced evacuation of villages in West Papua over the past few months -- apparently in retribution for raids allegedly made by OPM separatist rebels.

SIDNEY JONES: The unresolved killings of people in Timika and a number of other things that the military is involved in or suspected of being involved in will stay as mysteries, and we may see more such operations take place.

TIM PALMER: At the other end of the country in Aceh province, a year that began with faith in a flimsy peace accord slid instead into the familiar civil war.

Indonesia's army began the campaign with parachute drops and missile fire, announcing it needed just six months to exterminate the GAM rebels in the province.

Having broken that time frame already, the Government appears to have no exit strategy.

SIDNEY JONES: It is very difficult to point to any major successes that the government has had in this military emergency.

I think they have not captured any senior GAM commanders.

They haven't even captured half of the weapons that they say GAM has.

They have not succeeded in winning hearts and minds.

There are human rights violations that we know are still taking place there.

TIM PALMER: "After this, I don't want to be part of Indonesia any more," this Acehnese villager told the ABC.

He found his son with other men and boys shot dead in a rice paddy after soldiers told him to go and collect the rats that they'd killed.

One of the chief commanders in the Aceh campaign was General Adam Damiri -- he ended the year one of the few Indonesian officials convicted of human rights abuses in East Timor by a heavily criticised tribunal in Jakarta.

Most soldiers and police were acquitted.

Those few convicted remain free on appeal.

When special prosecutors in East Timor decided to take justice into their own hands and indict a long list of Indonesian officials for atrocities, they included former army commander-in-chief, General Wiranto.

In Jakarta, that was met with indignation -- not surprising, when it's considered that he may now be the presidential candidate of choice for the opposition Golkar party.

Next year's first-ever direct presidential elections in Indonesia now appear as wide open for Golkar, the party of former president Suharto, as for anyone else, with President Megawati's popularity slumping.

Megawati, the reformist hero, has now been recast as a say-nothing, do-nothing disappointment.

SIDNEY JONES: There are a lot of people whose first initial impression of Megawati was that she was a friend of the little guy, and that has just evaporated.

Their lives haven't improved -- if anything, they've gotten worse.

TIM PALMER: One year after Bali, a painful chapter in Indonesia-Australia relations was marked, if not closed, in a quarry above Kuta.

The wounded and the bereaved came back for a ceremony that was difficult, overwhelming and, in the end for many, relieving.

PHIL BRITTEN, BALI BOMBING SURVIVOR: I missed all my mates' funerals when I was in hospital so it was hard for me to say goodbye when I was in hospital.

This is sort of my last goodbye.

TIM PALMER: For many Australians, the singular memory from this exotic country this year might be the strains of a song about a swaggy at a billabong.

MARK BANNERMAN: And in news just to hand, a bomb blast has killed at least nine people and injured more than 30 others in a New Year's Eve concert in Aceh.

That report from Tim Palmer in Jakarta

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