Indonesia President 'feared' arrest in Netherlands

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (C) reviews a military parade during the 65th Indonesian military anniversary in Jakarta on October 5, 2010. (Adek Berry/AFP/Getty Images)

Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has been praised by many western countries for stabilizing his country's nascent democracy, building its economy and promoting human rights. It is hard to think how anyone would not want Indonesia to succeed and recover after three decades of dictatorship under the now dead Soeharto.

Through SBY's presidency it has been regarded as a Muslim nation that has successfully embraced democracy. US President Barack Obama is sure to make that point when he visits Jakarta in November.

But not all is sweetness and light.

Activists have long complained how several high profile rights cases have failed to be prosecuted successfully and some regions of the archipelago remain under a cloud of unrest and clampdown. Overall, the military remains a strong and powerful institution. Now SBY, himself a former army general, has been embarrassed diplomatically by a group based in Indonesia's former colonial master, The Netherlands.

The president called off a visit there at the last minute after hearing how an exiled separatist organization, the Republic of South Moluccas (RMS), had asked a Dutch court to order his arrest for alleged human rights violations in the troubled province of Maluku. The army has been accused of using heavy handed tactics to quell bloody fighting among rival Christians and Muslims there.

SBY thought it prudent to stay at home. But that's no longterm solution.

Indonesia is a vast country tangled with ethnic, regional and religious tensions and complexities that date back generations. If it is to keep moving forward it must use new ways - based on law and human rights rather than repression and force - to deal with comunual violence. The same goes for how it deals with separatists in places such as Papua.

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Geoff Spencer oversees Asia Society's online, public relations, and marketing departments. He has over 25 years of experience as an Asia-based journalist.