Monday, March 07, 2005

Edward Aspinall Barred From Indonesia

There must be something in the air. Another prominent academic-acivist, Edward Aspinall of the University of Sydney, has been barred from entering Indonesia. It's a move that echoes the bad old days of Suharto's New Order regime. This is not without its ironies because Aspinall's new book, Opposing Suharto: Compromise, Resistance, and Regime Change in Indonesia, has just been published by Stanford while his Last Days of President Suharto was one of the best studies of those turbulent events. There seem to be different stories circulating as to why he has been banned. The immigration authorities claim that Aspinall's "name was included on the blacklist" recommended by the Indonesian embassy in Canberra though no specific reason is given. But other sources are saying that the ban came from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The most likely reason is that Aspinall has been working as an advisor to a Free Aceh Movement (GAM) activist and has written extensively in the Australian media about the conflict in Aceh. At the beginning of the year, he also did voluntary work in Aceh translating for Australian doctors who were treating tsunami victims. If indeed it is his activist work in Aceh that has landed him in trouble then this really is a paranoid response from Yudhoyono's government. In fact, Edward Aspinall is one of the best and most balanced of all commentators on the Aceh conflict and on the hopes for an eventual solution. Just a couple of weeks ago he wrote this piece for the Sydney Morning Herald which warned that hardliners on both sides were a threat to any settlement. His conclusion to that article is worth repreating since it offers a cogent assessment of what is likely to happen and what still needs to be done.

Even if an agreement is signed, as one was in late 2002, spoilers on the ground could again frustrate it. Military commanders have many opportunities to instigate armed clashes and then allege bad faith on the part of the movement. It is also possible that some of the movement's fighters may feel betrayed by their leaders and want to keep up the fight.
The international community should welcome any progress in the talks. The shadow of renewed violence has been hanging over the tsunami relief effort and even a temporary reprieve should be encouraged. But there is a great distance to travel before a permanent settlement is achieved.
At this moment, Indonesia actually needs more voices like that of Edward Aspinall. The ban should be overturned immediately.


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