Called off: President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono waves while walking to his car at Halim Perdanakusuma Air Base in East Jakarta on Tuesday after announcing the cancellation of a planned trip to the Netherlands. Antara/Widodo S. Jusuf
The President canceled a state visit while his entourage was already on board, which was likely the first such incident in Indonesian history.
At a press conference at the Halim Perdanakusuma air base, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono cited “national dignity” as the main reason for unexpectedly canceling what would have been the first state visit by an Indonesian president to the Netherlands, its former colonizer, in 40 years.
The decision was both supported and criticized as “embarrassing”.
News that three Dutch citizens, including those from the RMS or the Republic of South Maluku movement, had just filed a lawsuit against the Indonesian government in a Dutch court over human rights abuses, led to the cancelation, Yudhoyono said.
“Security threats against a visit of head of state are usual,” he said, “But if [the lawsuit] leads to a trial this involves national dignity.”
“What I cannot accept is if the president of Indonesia visits the Netherlands, on the invitation from the Queen ... and then the court may decide to arrest that president.”
Following his announcement, his confused entourage, some of whomhad already boarded the presidential flight scheduled to depart at 1:30 p.m., disembarked.
The decision was made despite the announcement from the Indonesian Embassy in The Hague that “the Dutch government would fully ensure the security” of the President during the visit scheduled from Wednesday to Friday, as quoted by Antara news agency.
The arrest of Yudhoyono was unlikely as the Dutch court is bound by international law that guarantees immunity to heads of state, Reuters reported.
Nevertheless, politicians and other citizens praised the President’s decision, deriding democracy in the Netherlands, which colonized Indonesia for 350 years. “The existence of the RMS [in the Netherlands] raises the impression that it is being ‘nurtured’ in that country,” said Anas Urbaningrum of Yudhoyono’s Democratic Party.
Several leaders of the separatist movement have long sought asylum in the Netherlands. Their supporters have been charged with treason including a few men who performed a war dance associated with the RMS during the visit of Yudhoyono, and a number of RMS activists were reportedly tortured by the police.
Critics, however, said the lawsuit should not have led to the cancelation, particularly because the RMS was “not dangerous”, Haris Azhar of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence said. Yudhoyono “should not have been afraid,” he said.
Wim Sopacua, the RMS vice president in the Netherlands, said the lawsuit, which had its first hearing was held on Tuesday, was filed because the President was “responsible for the torture of dozens of activists in Maluku. The torture was carried out by the police’s Detachment 88 antiterror squad, which is a state institution,” Wim told The Jakarta Post by text message from The Hague.
Activist Hendardi said the “embarrasing” cancelation “created the image that the government might confirm the alleged rights abuses” as charged.
International affairs expert Hikmahanto Juwana said the cancelation was “a bad precedent” for the President and his successors.
Presidential spokesman Julian A. Pasha had said the President was concerned the court proceedings could be sped up to coincide with the state visit.
Former president Soeharto had visited Queen Beatrix in 1970, who in turn visited Indonesia in 1995.