RSI (Radio Singapore International]
05 May 2003
Ambon’s separatist supporters charged with treason
Police in Indonesia’s Maluku province have charged 129 separatist supporters with treason.
They have been accused of hoisting the flag of the South Maluku Republic, or RMS, separatist movement during its 53rd anniversary on the 25th of April.
If convicted, they could face up to 20 years in jail.
The Indonesian government’s stand on holding talks with the RMS has been that negotiating with banned organisations made no sense.
How does this attitude describe the Indonesian government’s general view of separatist movements?
Yvonne Gomez posed this question to Dr Arief Budiman, Head of Indonesian Studies at the University of Melbourne in Australia.
AB: I think the general attitude of all Indonesian governments has been, they don’t want separatism. What they want is a unified Indonesia, as one country. Especially Megawati - she’s very opposed to separations of any province in Indonesia. She opposed even to a federal state, and Gus Dur was a little bit different. But in general, Indonesians want to have Indonesia as one, single nation, rather than a federal state or something else.
Do you think the charge of treason, which carries with it a maximum of 20 years’ imprisonment, is too harsh for simply raising the flag of the RMS?
AB: Yeah, but it depends on what you think about raising a flag. It’s not something really criminal but it is symbolically heavily political. But I think in this case, just raising a flag without making any statement or demonstrating, I think it’s too harsh to give a maximum sentence for that kind of thing. But the Indonesian government has to do something to make people aware that they won’t be tolerated if they want to be separated from Indonesia. But I do think that this is harsh, but I don’t think that it will be implemented like that. It’s just to give a strong message to not be separated from Indonesia.
Picking up on that point, do you think a line needs to be drawn between separatists, and separatist supporters, when they are being dealt with by the authorities?
AB: Yes, I think so. The main thing is we have to go back to the rule of law. If they violate the law, like having an arms struggle for separatism, they have to be punished in this sense. But symbolic action like raising a flag, or even saying publicly that they want to have a separate state from Indonesia, I think this cannot be punished. So acting to separate oneself from one’s country is the act that has to be punished. But having the idea to have a separate state is still at the (inaudible) polemic and this must not be punished - it has to be tolerated in order to guarantee the freedom of expression, including expressing something that is not useful.
Although the Maluku administration has said that it is unlikely, do you think the Indonesian government will ever enter into talks with the RMS?
AB: No I don’t think so, because there is some problem with the status of the one who is going to be the partners in the talks. In principle, no, they don’t want to have a talk with any representative of RMS, but if the RMS people become big and powerful, then I think the Indonesian government may change this position. At the moment, I think the RMS is still very small. You can compare with the parallels or similarities with the Acehnese group. Now the Indonesian government wants to talk with the Acehnese group because their struggle for independence has been quite strong, so there is even international intervention. With the present situation of RMS, I think the Indonesian government will not talk with them.
Dr Arief Budiman, the Head of Indonesian Studies at the University of Melbourne in Australia, speaking to Yvonne Gomez earlier today.
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