News / Asia

    Indonesian President Heads to Burma During Heightened Sectarian Tensions

    Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (2013 photo)
    Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (2013 photo)
    Sara Schonhardt

    Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono will head to Burma Tuesday for his first state visit there since 2006. The trip comes as rising ethnic and religious violence in Burma tests the special relationship that has long bound the two southeast Asian nations.
     

    Indonesia and Burma have a lot in common. Both were once military dictatorships that are now headed by former generals. Both have made the painful transition to democracy and have seen conflicts mar the way.

     

    Scholars and government advisers say those similarities have created an understanding that change takes time, and that has kept Indonesia from pressuring Burma to speed up the pace of reform.

     

    "It’s quite obvious when countries start reforming the political system like Indonesia in the past, we experienced a lot of difficulties in the early stages, a lot of communal conflicts, violence and other behavior which is not conducive for democracy. What happens in Myanmar at this stage is only part of the new realities under democracy," said Teuku Faizasyah, President Yudhoyono’s aide for international affairs.


    In the years after mass protests in 1998 brought down former autocratic president Suharto, Indonesia worked to ease its military out of government. At the same time Indonesia used its close ties with Burma to nudge that country’s military regime toward more openness.

     

    Burma watchers say progress has been notable. Since taking over the government two years ago, Burma’s president, Thein Sein, has loosened controls over the media, released political prisoners and helped negotiate cease-fire agreements with rebel groups.

     

    But ethnic and sectarian clashes have escalated in Buddhist-majority Burma, threatening those celebrated reforms.

     

    Human rights groups and the United Nations have pressured the government to do more to lessen sectarian tensions since last June, when rioting broke out between Buddhist and Muslims in western Rakhine state. Instead, the violence has spread, forcing more than 100,000 people from their homes.

     

    Many of those fleeing the violence have gone abroad and some have sought refuge in Indonesia. For now, Jakarta is favoring engaging with the Burmese government instead of criticizing it.

     

    Moe Thuzar, a researcher on Myanmar at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, says Indonesia’s approach is similar to the non-intervention strategy used in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN.

     

    "Indonesia, as a founding member of ASEAN, is a big proponent of quiet diplomacy, and it’s how things have worked when it comes to advising fellow member countries and to bring about commitments toward change without splashing it in the headlines."

     

    That approach has earned Indonesia Burma’s trust. In August last year former vice president Jusuf Kalla visited Rakhine state. Then, in January, foreign minister Marty Natalagawa gained rare access to one of the areas hit hardest by last year’s anti-Muslim violence.

     

    While Jakarta has expressed concerns about the violence spreading through Burma, however, the president’s aide Teuku Faizasyah says it’s up to the Burmese people to solve the problem.

     

    "Certainly we’ve given our support on how to best handle the problems. We can help in providing training and other ways of bringing little understanding among ethnic groups. But in the end it must be between Myanmarese themselves," Faizasyah said.

     

    Indonesia experienced similar internal violence following its transition to democracy and is well aware of the complexities of dealing with reform. Some analysts say that if Indonesia, which is majority Muslim, is seen to be siding with the Rohingya, it risks dividing ASEAN and could jeopardize its leading role in the regional grouping.

     

    Indonesian companies are also looking to Burma for investment opportunities. If Jakarta starts to exert pressure, it could lose some of its leverage.

     

    Murray Hiebert, a senior fellow on Southeast Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington DC, says it is important that Indonesia share experiences, provide support and moral encouragement rather than impose pressure.

     

    "The leadership in Myanmar these days is trying to do reforms, they’re really engaged on issues like human rights, how to address communal violence. I think for a country like Indonesia to go in and try to be too pressure-some would just raise hackles," Hiebert said.

     

    Some parliamentarians in Indonesia have talked with their counterparts in Burma about security reform and the potential for discussions with people involved in drafting the Helsinki agreement that brought an end to decades of fighting in Indonesia’s Aceh.

     

    Burma’s legislature has undergone some of the greatest reform in the country - though much of the government is still filled with military figures. Lawmakers in Indonesia say if the parliament is more empowered, it can take a greater role in shaping Burma’s future.

    You May Like

    Top US General: Turkish Media Report ‘Absurd'

    General Dunford rejects ‘irresponsible' claims of coup involvement by former four-star Army General Campbell, who led NATO forces in Afghanistan before retiring earlier this year

    Video Saving Ethiopian Children Thought to Be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at efforts of one African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children

    Protests Over Western Troops Threaten Libyan 'Unity' Government

    Fears mount that Islamist foes of ‘unity' government plan to declare a revolutionaries' council in Tripoli

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunitiesi
    X
    VOA News
    July 25, 2016 5:09 PM
    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Four Brother Goats Arrive in Brooklyn on a Mission

    While it's unusual to see farm animals in cities, it's become familiar for residents of Brooklyn, New York, to see a little herd of goats. Unlike gas-powered mowing equipment, goats remove invasive weeds quietly and without adding more pollution to the air. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this is a pilot program and if it proves to be successful, the goat gardener program will be extended to other areas of New York. Faith Lapidus narrates.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora