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Indonesia: U.S. Exerting Indirect Economic Pressure

The United States has expressed increasing concern about Indonesia's apparent unwillingness to restore law and order in East Timor. State Department spokesman James Rubin is reminding Jakarta that peace is in its own best economic interest. RFE/RL correspondent Andrew F. Tully looks at the issues involved.

Washington, 9 September 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The United States is putting indirect economic pressure on the Indonesian government to crack down on the pro-Jakarta militias that have been terrorizing the people of East Timor since they voted for independence last week.

For two straight days, State Department spokesman James Rubin stressed that it is in Indonesia's own economic interest to bring order to the island. Rubin even invoked the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The IMF has poured billions of dollars into Indonesia over the past two years to help the country survive the Asian economic crisis. As a result, Rubin suggested, the government of Indonesia President B.J. Habibi cannot afford to anger the IMF and alienate foreign investors.

Rubin talked at length at a State Department briefing Wednesday about Indonesia's need to recognize its economic self-interest.

He said: "With respect to the economic program, we do spend tens of millions of dollars on economic development directly with the Indonesian government and, obviously, the Indonesian government receives substantial billions of dollars in support pursuant to an agreement with the International Monetary Fund. The International Monetary Fund has indicated it is closely monitoring the situation in East Timor. But far more important than either of those is the investment climate, which is the key to economic stability and economic growth in Indonesia, and that investment climate is severely harmed by a situation such as the one that has been going on in East Timor and can only be restored by the restoration of law and order there."

Rubin's statement carefully avoided threatening any direct U.S. economic reprisals against Indonesia. In the U.S. Congress, however, several senators made a more direct threat against Indonesia. They introduced legislation demanding that the United States immediately sever military assistance to the island nation until Jakarta implements East Timor's August 30 vote for independence.

Meanwhile, Rubin intensified the U.S. condemnation of Habibi's government, accusing it of lacking the will to end the violence.

He said: "The question is not the capability of Indonesia to restore order, the question is the will of Indonesia to restore order."

At the White House, President Bill Clinton's national security adviser, Samuel Berger, echoed Rubin's statement.

Berger said: "The Indonesian government has said that it intends to address this situation on its own, but today we have seen little evidence of this. And if this continues to be the case, then it should invite the international community to assist in restoring order and security."

Berger's suggestion of an international peacekeeping troops was reinforced by Rubin and White House spokesman Joseph Lockhart. But the U.S. secretary of defense, William Cohen, said the United States has no plans for American troops to be involved.