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EDITIONS
East Timor Thursday, 29 July, 1999, 09:39 GMT 10:39 UK
Analysis: The fragile archipelago
By former Jakarta Correspondent Catherine Napier

The prospect of independence for East Timor has raised concerns once more about the unity of Indonesia, a country of more than 13,000 islands and hundreds of ethnic groups.

For 32 years President Suharto ruled Indonesia with armies of civil servants sent out from Jakarta and battalions of soldiers despatched to quell separatist revolts.

The regions yielded up the lion's share of their revenue in taxes to the Government. No wonder that in some more far flung areas, local populations felt aggrieved.

Timorese separatists
Separatist sentiment is not restricted to East Timor
Separatist sentiment flared in Aceh in North Sumatra, in Irian Jaya once it was finally wrested from the Dutch, and in East Timor where troops moved in after Portugal abandoned its former colony.

But it was East Timor which became the special case after the UN decided Indonesia's annexation was illegal.

Uncertain future

And it remains a special case - the subject of ongoing negotiations at international level. Now the government has said that if proposals for autonomy are rejected, East Timor can have its independence.

Dissatisfaction in many other areas of Indonesia is high. But no other region has got the UN on its side.

No other region is harbouring a rebellion as developed as East Timor's - no other region is ready or able to break away. Even in East Timor's case the future is uncertain once independence comes.

President Habibie has promised a democratic revolution.

Trump card

President Habibie
Habibie has promised first democratic elections for three decades
Hundreds of new political parties have been formed and elections are planned for June.

But his trump card could be devolving more power to the regions. Under the plan, provinces would hang on to much more of their wealth and take more local decisions.

It could help ease unrest.

But Indonesian bureaucracy is notoriously corrupt and mismanagement is rife.

East Timor
There's no reason why that should change. And the explosion of political parties could take pork barrel politics at local level to new depths.

The armed forces may also be reluctant to accept the new arrangement.

The army is an integral part of government in Indonesia. Almost certainly it will have to give up some power at local level.

Already its strength in parliament has been reduced. But with more violence likely in this tough transition period, the army will not allow itself to be confined to barracks.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Video
The BBC's Jonathan Head reports on the latest threat to a peaceful settlement in East Timor
Video
Matt Frei reports on the prospects for stability
Links to more East Timor stories are at the foot of the page.


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Links to more East Timor stories

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