Where Monsoons Meet No. 6
Being a miscellany of recent stories from Southeast Asia.
- Indonesia-Aceh. A week on from tentative peace talks in Helsinki, the Indonesian government has said that it is willing to meet representatives from the separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM). According to the FT, the president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, said that he expected a team of ministers to go to Helsinki at the end of February for more talks with exiled GAM leaders: "I have to say to GAM that it is a golden opportunity. I really hope that the GAM side does not miss the window of opportunity because it is time to reunite by adopting special autonomy. We have to continue our talks right now". The conflict has been going on for more than 29 years and Aceh has been under military rule for most of the past 15 years. In the meantime, GAM leaders say they are willing to set aside their demands for complete independence, at least for the time being. This may indeed be an opportunity for change so long as the Indonesian military does not set the agenda.
- Philippines. The story of the missing billions stolen by the dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his wife, Imelda, has taken a new twist. Despite a US court decision in 1995 awarding the victims of torture, summary killings and disappearances $1.2 billion in damages from the Marcos estate, no money has yet been paid out. In 2003 the Philippine government insisted that any money it recovered from the regime’s coffers - some $683 million - is state property. Recently, a group of more than 9,500 rights victims made a symbolic challenge to the ruling in a US appeals court. Now the appeals court has decided that American courts cannot overturn the sovereign prerogative of the Philippines. This may be good international law but it is bad law as far as the victims of the dictatorship are concerned. The pressure is now on to find new ways to compensate the victims of martial law. Meanwhile, Imedla Marcos is said to be exultant. "Once again, the United States judicial system worked", she said. And to insult to injury, she made the brazen claim that the Marcoses "did not even pinch [kinurot] a human right claimant". The US court decision is demeaning. But Imelda Marcos's sickness is something far, far worse.
- Thailand. As expected, the Thai Rak Thai party under the incumbent prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, secured a landslide victory in today's election. In fact the margin of victory appears to be bigger than predicted with Thaksin gaining enough seats to rule on his own. There are reports here, here, here and here. The election result ends a long tradition of coalition government in Thailand. The opposition Democrats were badly beaten. Their leader, Banyat Bantadtan, has resigned amid fears of what he calls a "parliamentary dictatorship". We can certainly expect four more years of the kind of economic revolution on behalf of domestic capital that Thaksin has so assiduously pursued. (Hat tip: Chatchie)