Monday, March 07, 2005

Where Monsoons Meet No. 9

Being a miscellany of recent stories from Southeast Asia.
  • Indonesia. The big story, of course, was the jail sentence for Abu Bakar Ba'asyir who was found guilty on Thursday of conspiracy in relation to the 2002 Bali bombings. He was found not guilty of direct involvement in the bombings. There are reports here, here, here and here. But the 30-month term has polarised opinion. As the Jakarta Post drily notes:
    Given the fact that Ba'asyir has been detained since April last year, he will serve only one and a half years in prison, which equals the punishment he received for violating immigration regulations during his previous trial.
    Ba'asyir's supporters claimed to be outraged by the conviction, cursed the judge in court and clashed with police. For their part, the governments of Australia and the US expressed their dismay at the leniency. Meanwhile, the Indonesian government is asking foreign critics to respect the court's decision. To my mind, given the seriousness of the crimes of which he is convicted Ba'asyir's sentence does seem lenient - though there are some legitimate grounds for doubt in relation to the evidence that was presented in court. Justice must be seen to be done. Ba'asyir represents a fanatical and murderous tendency in Indonesian politics. The hope must be that his brief sojourn in jail does not encourage the others.
  • Cambodia. This is a hopeful sign. The government of Cambodia has just launched a campaign to promote organic farming with the intention of making the country the "green farm of South East Asia". It is an interesting move away from the usual development prescriptions in which agricultural modernisation has relied almost entirely on the introduction of high yielding varieties of foodgrains and their associated bio-chemical and mechanical technologies. The success of these so-called "Green Revolution" innovations elsewhere has been patchy. So the Cambodian experiment is certainly a worthy alternative.
  • Burma. The regional association, ASEAN, has finally issued a statement of concern over the slow pace of democratic reforms in Burma. According to the Singaporean foreign minister, George Yeo, the junta's intransigence is threatening to embarrass ASEAN's relations with the European Union. ASEAN is famous for its so-called "ASEAN Way" of diplomacy, essentially a policy of non-interference in the domestic affairs of member states and has pursued a strategy of "constructive engagement" with the goons in Rangoon. And this has achieved precisely nothing. But some governments in the region are getting fed up with the softly-softly approach. Next month the political situation in Burma will be on the agenda of an important closed-door meeting of ASEAN states. It's time for a concerted push to ensure some real action.


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