Visiting Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid indicated Monday that he would announce within a month a referendum on independence for the country’s restive Aceh province, according to a senior Japanese politician.

Wahid made the remarks during a meeting with Taku Yamasaki, former policy affairs chief of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and head of the Japan-Indonesia Parliamentarians’ League.

Yamasaki told reporters that Wahid said the results of the referendum would be important, adding that the people of Aceh could choose either an Islamic state, a non-Islamic state or the continuation of its status as a special region of Indonesia.

Wahid is expected to visit Aceh in the near future. Demands for independence are increasing in the province, whose rich natural resources have not been fairly distributed to local people, they claim.

Dozens of human rights violations by the Indonesian military and police in the province have gone unpunished, intensifying the desire of the Acehnese to set up their own Islamic state, free from central government rule.

Later in the day, Wahid met with Foreign Minister Yohei Kono, who conveyed Japan’s intention to extend full support for Jakarta’s efforts to achieve national reform, according to a Foreign Ministry official.

During talks Monday evening at the Iikura State Guesthouse in Tokyo, Kono and Wahid agreed that Japan will send a high-level economic mission to Indonesia as early as the end of this month to draw up further support measures for Jakarta, the official said.

Kono said he is confident that Wahid will be able to secure the confidence of the financial markets as he tries to reform the Indonesian economy, which has suffered a range of problems since it was badly affected by the Asian economic crisis two years ago, the official said.

Wahid said he wants to advance Japanese-Indonesian relations with “frankness” and “sincerity,” the official said.

Regarding East Timor, Kono underlined the importance of continued efforts to deal with such issues as refugees’ human rights, adding that Tokyo will consider what it can do to help sustain refugees left in West Timor, the official said.

The government last week decided to extend $28 million in humanitarian assistance for refugees in East Timor in response to appeals from the United Nations for aid.

Japan has already committed $100 million to a multinational force deployed in East Timor to restore order. With the latest commitment and expected contributions to the U.N. Transitional Administration in East Timor, an organ set up to help build a new independent state in the territory, Japan’s aid for East Timor is likely to reach $200 million.

Wahid arrived in Japan on Monday for a two-day visit, his first since taking office Oct. 20.

Kono hails U.S.-China WTO agreement>
Foreign Minister Yohei Kono on Monday hailed an agreement reached by the United States and China on Beijing’s accession to the World Trade Organization, a deal deemed key for Beijing’s entry into the multilateral trade body.

“We welcome an agreement the U.S. and China substantially made on China’s membership to the WTO,” Kono said in a written statement.

“China’s affiliation with the WTO is extremely important from the standpoint of strengthening of the WTO regime,” he continued.

Since it concluded a separate bilateral market-access agreement with China in July, Japan has been urging the U.S. and Beijing’s other major trading partners to settle the needed bilateral agreements to help it join the WTO.

Kono expressed Tokyo’s determination to continue backing China’s efforts to become a WTO member; Beijing still needs to conclude talks with other trading partners, most notably the European Union, and the WTO will decide on a protocol for China’s membership through multilateral negotiations.

Meanwhile, the minister of international trade and industry, Takashi Fukaya, also hailed Monday’s agreement and underlined the importance of having China, which holds an important position in world trade, in the WTO.

The participation of China would not only make the WTO a truly global regime, it would benefit China and its trading partners by boosting opportunities for cross-border market access and further promote the rule of law in regards to trade issues, he said in a statement.

Fukaya added that China’s agreement with the U.S., which is Beijing’s second largest trading partner next to Japan, will give impetus for the WTO multilateral negotiations in Geneva to decide on a protocol for China’s accession.

Pakistan urged to sign CTBT>
Foreign Minister Yohei Kono urged Pakistan Monday to take “visible steps” toward transition to a democratically elected government and to quickly sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, a global pact to ban nuclear testing, a Foreign Ministry official said.

Kono conveyed Japan’s stance to Sahabzada Yaqub Kahn, a special envoy visiting on behalf of Pakistan’s new chief executive, Gen. Pervaiz Musharraf. Musharraf came to power by declaring a state of emergency, suspending the constitution and ousting Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a military coup Oct. 12.

During talks Monday at the ministry, Kono told Kahn that if the two conditions are met, Japan and Pakistan will be able to return to presanction relations, the official said.

In May 1998, Pakistan conducted its first nuclear test in response to one by India. Japan has since suspended its official development assistance to Islamabad except for emergency humanitarian aid. Similar sanctions remain in place for India as well.

Kahn pledged that Pakistan would make efforts to respond to international concerns about the two issues but did not specify a time frame for them, the official said.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.