Camelia Pasandaran & Nivell Rayda
Jakarta. His plane waiting on the tarmac, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Tuesday called off his trip to the Netherlands at the very last minute, saying he felt insulted by a protest by a Maluku independence group there.
He spoke at a press conference at the Halim Perdanakusuma air base, as the official plane that was supposed to fly him to the Netherlands was waiting for him with part of his entourage already on board.
“It concerns our dignity as a nation, our dignity as a country,” Yudhoyono said. “Therefore, I decided to delay the visit.” A presidential visit “should not be disturbed by events that are unacceptable to Indonesians,” he said.
In addition to the protest, the exiled South Maluku Republic (RMS) government reported Yudhoyono to a human rights court in the Netherlands, spokesman Wim Sopacua said.
Yudhoyono, who was scheduled to leave for a four-day trip, told the press conference he could not accept the invitation extended by Dutch Queen Beatrix and her prime minister if the visit was to be marred by a request in a court there to have him arrested.
“SBY is the person most responsible for human rights violations against RMS activists in Maluku. Densus 88 is a government entity and its ultimate commander is the president,” Sopacua told the Jakarta Globe via telephone from the Netherlands.
He said that NGOs Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch had concluded after their investigations that peaceful pro-independence activists in Maluku had been tortured.
Sopacua was referring to allegations of torture against at least 21 Maluku activists, who were arrested in June during a presidential visit to the province.
The men allegedly tried to unravel the banned Benang Raja flag, a symbol of the RMS, in front of Yudhoyono.
The RMS also filed another case of alleged human rights abuse, in connection with the arrest of activists in 2007, where several people performed the Cakalele traditional war dance during a visit by Yudhoyono in Ambon and also unfolded the outlawed flag.
“The president even made a public remark, urging police to heavily punish the Cakalele dancers,” Sopacua said.
Mahfudz Siddiq, chairman of House Commission I that covers foreign affairs, said he supported Yudhoyono’s decision, saying, “It’s not about security. That’s not crucial.”
Rather, Mahfud said, there was a sense the Dutch government was “disrespecting Indonesia” by allowing the protest and the legal suit to happen at the same time as the president’s visit.
However, House Deputy Chairman Pramono Anung said the move was regretful in that it may not only harm bilateral relations but “will also affect how the international world views us.”
He blamed those who arranged the visit, saying they should have known about the RMS’ schedule of activities.
International law expert Hikmahanto Juwana said the president had overreacted since, as a visiting head of state, he would have had complete diplomatic immunity to any decision to arrest him.
“He shouldn’t have worried about getting arrested,” Hikmahanto said, adding that it could set a bad precedent for similar groups in the future. “It is embarrassing. He shouldn’t have called off the trip.”
Hendardi, chairman of the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, said the cancellation “indeed affirmed the fact that there had been serious human rights violation in Maluku.” The cancellation, he said, would only embolden the RMS to ramp up its propaganda and to campaign more actively.
On April 25, 1950, the Republic of South Maluku proclaimed its independence but the Indonesian government quashed the movement and outlawed it.
Yudhoyono has already twice delayed his plan to visit the Netherlands since 2007.
Additional reporting from Anita Rachman & Nurfika Osman