With U.S. officials warning that Indonesia is on the verge of economic and social collapse, a Clinton administration delegation led by Defense Secretary William Cohen called on Indonesia's new president and military commanders Saturday to honor their pledge to end human rights abuses and show restraint if government opponents take to the streets again.
Cohen is the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Indonesia since President Suharto was forced to resign last May after 32 years in power. He said that the country, the world's fourth-most populous, was in the midst of a crisis and that he had urged its leaders to move quickly "toward a democratic form of government."The defense secretary described his meetings here with President B.J. Habibie, Suharto's former vice president and his successor, and Gen. Wiranto, the military commander, as "very open, very candid." Habibie, he said, "indicated his strong commitment to place human rights at a very high level of concern and his commitment to the people of Indonesia."
More than 1,200 people were killed in May in the rioting that led to Suharto's resignation.
The end of the Suharto era did not halt the staggering economic slide of Indonesia, which now faces its worst economic crisis in decades. An estimated 100 million people - about half of the population - are expected to sink below the poverty line by the end of the year. The crisis has wiped out 30 years of impressive economic growth. Malnutrition is widespread and growing.
The United States suspended most of its ties to the Indonesian military as a result of the uprising in May. Yet despite the allegations that U.S.-trained troops might have been responsible for some of the worst of the violence, Cohen said the United States hoped to "build upon a military relationship in the future."