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11 December 2008

Indonesia's Ali Alatas tarnished by East Timor

11 Dec 2008 09:36:27 GMT Source: Reuters JAKARTA, Dec 11 (Reuters) - Indonesia's former foreign minister Ali Alatas, who died in Singapore on Thursday, was a widely respected figure in the region tipped at one stage to be a possible United Nations secretary-general.

But his long career was ultimately stained by the mayhem surrounding East Timor's vote for independence from Indonesia in 1999, when Jakarta-backed militias went on a rampage, killing about 1,000 East Timorese according to U.N. estimates.

Alatas was Indonesia's longest-serving foreign minister, taking office in 1988 under long-time strongman president Suharto and serving until 1999 amid the turbulence of the reform movement that had driven Suharto from power a year earlier.

He also twice served as Indonesia's ambassador to the United Nations in the 1970s and 1980s.

Alatas, a member of the Southeast Asian grouping ASEAN's Eminent Persons Group, also helped broker peace in other hot spots in the region, including the civil war in Cambodia.

In recent years he was an adviser to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, chaired international seminars, and was on the board of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group.

The gentlemanly Alatas' career, however, remained haunted by the Suharto era and the turmoil in East Timor, the former Portuguese colony that Indonesia invaded in 1975.

Alatas' account of events there, titled "The pebble in the shoe: The diplomatic struggle for East Timor", helped start a wider debate about the crisis among official circles.

But despite his skills as a diplomat, Alatas struggled to justify the brutal events in East Timor, said Damien Kingsbury, an associate professor at Deakin University in Australia.

"No matter how much he tried, he was always going to be trying to justify an appalling situation to the international community," said Kingsbury, who was speaking by telephone while on a trip to East Timor.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd paid tribute to Alatas for improving often testy ties between the two nations.

"Mr Alatas contributed both vision and hard work to strengthening the political, economic and personal links between our two countries," Rudd said.

Alatas, 76, was married with three children. He died of a heart attack after being treated in Singapore's Mount Elizabeth hospital for more than two weeks.

Presidential spokesman Dino Patti Djalal said that Yudhoyono was "sad and shocked" by the news of his death.

"I cannot spell out his achievements but in the milestones of his career, his highest achievement was when together with the French government he helped to solve the bloody conflict in Cambodia. But ironically he didn't get the credit he deserved from it," said Djalal.

Officials said Muslim prayers would be held in Singapore before his body was flown to Jakarta. (Reporting by Muklis Ali and Tyagita Silka; Additional reporting by Olivia Rondonuwu in JAKARTA, Kevin Lim in SINGAPORE and James Grubel in CANBERRA; Writing by Ed Davies; Editing by Paul Tait)

Original source: http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/JAK398560.htm

Image: Indonesian troops bury East Timorese torture victims.

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