February 7, 2000
volume 11, no. 26
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NEWS & VIEWS     Acknowledgments
Articles provided through Catholic World News and Church News at Noticias Eclesiales and International Dossiers, Daily Dispatches and Features at ZENIT International News Agency. CWN, NE and ZENIT are not affiliated with the Daily CATHOLIC but provide this service via e-mail to the Daily CATHOLIC Monday through Friday.

    POPE RECEIVES MAN ASPIRING TO BRING DEMOCRACY TO INDONESIA Wahid Currently Faces Ethnic Conflicts in Mollucas VATICAN CITY, FEB 6 (ZENIT).- The touchiest issues of Indonesia's explosive situation were dealt with yesterday by John Paul II and the country's president, Abdurraman Wahid, who came to the Vatican accompanied by a party of ten.

    In the development of the encounters that have taken place in the Holy See between the Indonesian leader and the Bishop of Rome, along with the Secretary of State of the Vatican Cardinal Sodano, opinions about the situation of Indonesia were exchanged, "giving particular attention to interreligious dialogue and to peaceful coexistence between the various communities of the country," explained an official note from the Vatican Press Office at the end of the meetings. Also mentioned were "the situation of the two parts of the island of Timor, and that of the Asian Continent in general."

    A moderate Muslim and "layman," Wahid, 59 years old, visited the Pope at the end of his tour of the European capitals.

    Indonesia was described by the international news report of "Radio Vatican" as "a country in search of a stable democracy, menaced by the risk of a coup d'état at the hands of the military." This nation experiences violent, historical separatist currents, some of which "have been partially resolved -- such as the case of East Timor -- while others have reached a worrying point of crisis, as is the case in the province of Aceh. The economical and social imbalance between the Muslim majority and the Christian minority has provoked conflicts that in the Molucan archipelago have taken the lives of 1,700 since the end of last year," indicated the report.

    With 200 million inhabitants, Indonesia is the country with the largest Islamic population. The future of the nation now rests in the hands of Wahid, who the radio report described as "a man capable of establishing democratic ideals, a statesman more inclined to dialog than to exercise power in an authoritarian way -- political characteristics that have won him international recognition."

    Upon taking power Wahid proposed two objectives: to preserve the territorial integrity of Indonesia, and to put its economic regeneration into motion. These are two tremendous challenges for a country that has been humiliated by the events in East Timor, and which is undergoing a delicate phase of transition from an autocratic regime, based on military power, to democracy. But President Wahid has moved decisively, maintaining united all the pieces which form the complex Indonesian mosaic of diverse ethnic groups, religions, social situations, and economic realities.

    The referendum that gave East Timor its independence has undoubtedly enkindled the secessionist hopes of other provinces such as Aceh and Rianjaya, whose battle against the capital Jakarta has lasted years, embittered by the brutal repression unleashed in the past by the army against the civilian population. Until now, Wahid has attempted to offer ample autonomy on the one hand, and, on the other, to deter those who wish to impose martial law so as to prevent new manifestations of those seeking independence.

    Wahid's success is not guaranteed, but he is using every chance available to demonstrate that things have indeed changed in Jakarta, and that the international community can trust the new government, especially when it comes to respect for human rights.

    In this regard, his confrontation with General Wiranto, whom the investigating Commission created by Wahid singled out as one of the Generals responsible for the crimes committed in East Timor, is of particular interest. The future of Wahid could depend on the outcome of this battle, given that the most severe threats to his plans stem from military circles close to the ex-dictator Suharto, who withdrew in May 1998.

    It is precisely for this reason that Wahid toured the old Continent: with his visit to Europe and the Vatican, Wahid seeks the West's support of his political project. ZE00020608


February 7, 2000
volume 11, no. 26

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