President Warns of Zero Tolerance on Separatism

JAKARTA ~ President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono warned on Thursday that his government has no tolerance for separatist sentiment in the world’s largest archipelagic country.

“The state will remain firm. There is no space for anyone to engage in separatism that threatens the sovereignty and integrity of the state,” Yudhoyono said in his annual state-of-the-nation address at parliament.

Indonesia curbed separatism in the country’s westernmost province of Aceh by signing a peace pact in 2005 that ended almost three decades of violent conflict with the rebel Free Aceh Movement.

A former rebel leader has since been elected as governor of the province.

Recent minor incidents there, such as the pulling down of more than 200 Indonesian flags ahead of the country’s day independence day Friday, were dismissed by Yudhoyono as to be expected.

“It is only normal if some tension and misunderstanding continue between sides who have been in conflict for over 30 years, because trust-building is still in progress,” Yudhoyono said.

Pro-independence sentiment also continues to simmer at the eastern end of the archipelago in the provinces of Papua and West Papua, fuelled by alleged human rights violations by security forces, and the siphoning off the region’s natural wealth by the central government.

“I affirm that the government will not give any room for anyone, be they from inside or outside the country, wishing to engage in action to scuttle the acceleration of development in Papua and at the same time threaten the sovereignty and integrity of our country,” Yudhoyono said.

The former general added that as far as possible, repression would not be used to deal with any separatist threat to the sprawling nation.

“In the current era of democracy and reform, as far as possible, we will use peaceful and persuasive means, prioritizing approaches that can provide justice and prosperity,” he said.

In another recent separatist incident, a group of traditional dancers slipped security to unfurl an outlawed flag in front of Yudhoyono in the Maluku capital of Ambon, causing a furor across the country.

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