Get Serious About Uprisings Philip Bowring IHT Thursday, September 6, 2001


HONG KONG There are signs that Southeast Asian nations are beginning to do more than pay lip service to cooperation on insurgency and related tricky regional issues. But human rights issues are likely to get less sympathy.

At the end of her whistle-stop tour late last month of all nine neighbors in the Association of South East Asian Nations, President Megawati Sukarnoputri of Indonesia asked that there be a special meeting of security and intelligence officials before the next ASEAN summit meeting, in November, to combat cross-border movements of arms and insurgents. .

Meanwhile President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo of the Philippines has recently been both to Malaysia, a player in the problems of Muslim Mindanao and Sulu, in the Philippines, and to Singapore, a predominantly ethnic Chinese nation often viewed with suspicion by its mainly Malay neighbors.

Singapore's senior minister, Lee Kuan Yew, has gone out of his way to improve relations with Malaysia. Mr. Lee met with Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad on his first visit to Malaysia in 10 years, in an effort to resolve long-standing disputes between the two countries. After the trip, he said relations with Malaysia seemed likely to improve.

Mrs. Megawati has made it clear that Acehnese independence claims will get short shift from her administration regardless of what overseas human rights groups have to say. But to end the insurgency she will need more cooperation from Indonesia's neighbors. Although Indonesia has stepped up naval and air patrols off Aceh, the flow of arms to the rebels has not been interrupted. The rebels have sympathizers in Malaysia among people of Acehnese origin and some conservative Muslim groups. Muslims in southern Thailand have been supportive and there is no shortage of Thai fishermen willing to trade in arms.

Indonesian officials have privately complained that Singapore is not doing enough to reduce the flow of money to the rebels. But Singapore seems to be making a determined effort to revive regional cooperation.

Mrs. Megawati has easily been able to forge a common front with Mrs. Arroyo against separatism. Unlike Malaysia, Indonesia has never meddled in Mindanao, and for some time Jakarta has been aiding dialogue between Manila and the main rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

The most important country from the point of view of both Indonesia and the Philippines is Malaysia. Relations in the past were not helped by the public sympathy of Abdurrahman Wahid and Joseph Estrada, the former presidents of the two countries, for the imprisoned former Malaysian deputy prime minister, Anwar Ibrahim.

Mrs. Arroyo has been able to make a fresh start with Mr. Mahathir. She has also distanced herself as far as constitutionally possible from the Philippines' claim to the state of Sabah in eastern Malaysia - a claim that the Philippine Senate refuses to abandon.

The Malaysian government now may be seeing insurgencies linked to Islam in a different light. Certainly, it suits the interests of the governing United Malays National Organization to represent its local Malay opponents as more extreme Islamists than they actually are. But Malaysians were apparently linked to bomb blasts in Jakarta that were blamed on Muslim militants. Malaysia's confidence in its own stability has been slightly eroded.

In Indonesia, the liberalism that flourished after the economic crisis, the downfall of President Suharto and the independence of East Timor may be giving way to a renewed emphasis on national unity. . The removal of Mr. Wahid and the replacement of Chuan Leekpai as Thai prime minister have weakened the forces of liberal democracy in the region and made dialogue with the Burmese junta easier. Western economic leverage, though still strong, is past its peak.

. Australia's problems with well-organized and financed boatloads of Afghan migrants have demonstrated the conflict between Western declarations on human rights and national interests. Australia is now united with its neighbors in resenting holier than thou lectures from Europe. . It remains to be seen whether ASEAN members can generate enough cooperation to reverse the tides of separatism and religious extremism. But there is renewed awareness that if they do not hang together they could hang separately.



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