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Indonesian President's Top Priority: to Crush 'Free Aceh' Rebellion - 2002-08-01

Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri has opened the annual legislative session warning it will take time to fix Indonesia's many problems, but she said her top priority is to crush the violent separatist movement in Aceh Province. Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri said the country has become a safer place since she took office one year ago, but she said there is still much to be done. She said the country must be realistic that there are no instant and quick solutions for the complex problems Indonesia now faces. The president's speech marked the opening of the annual session of Indonesia's highest legislative body, the People's Consultative Assembly. The 700-member Assembly has the power to elect and remove presidents from office and convenes every August, in part, to evaluate an administration's performance. In her progress report, Ms. Megawati told lawmakers separatism still poses a threat, but the fears of national disintegration had eased. Indonesia is fighting guerrilla independence movements in two provinces, West Papua and Aceh. Ms. Megawati said it is time to crush the rebel "Free Aceh Movement." She said her main priority is to do more to protect people from what she called the "terrorism" carried out by the group. Ms. Megawati meets with her cabinet next week to determine whether the government should impose a state of civil emergency in Aceh, a move one step below the imposition of martial law. She is to meet Friday with Secretary of State Colin Powell in Jakarta. Indonesia wants to resume military ties with the United States, which were suspended because of human rights abuses carried out by the military in East Timor as it voted for independence from Indonesia in 1999. Ms. Megawati came to power last year after the Assembly voted to remove former President Abdurrahman Wahid from power for being ineffective. She has come under fire for what some consider being too passive in tackling Indonesia's woes. Many of those problems stem from the 1997 Southeast Asian financial crisis, from which Indonesia has still not recovered. In her speech, Ms. Megawati defended her government's willingness to work with the International Monetary Fund in order to implement economic reform measures.

She warned that more tough times could be ahead as those reforms were put in place, but the president offered no new economic initiatives to boost foreign investment.