To Our Readers

  • Share
  • Read Later
Like many Indonesians, reporters Jason Tedjasukmana and Zamira Loebis were filled with hope when last year's democratic elections produced a President who promised stability and reform. Though infirm and nearly blind, Abdurrahman Wahid seemed to have the skill, determination and legitimacy to heal Indonesia's ethnic and separatist fissures. Now, however, Tedjasukmana and Loebis share a growing unease that even Wahid may not be able to keep their country's darker impulses under control. As they report in this week's cover story, sectarian violence is popping up all over and rumors of a military coup are spreading. Correspondent David Liebhold, who wrote the main narrative, even got Lieut.-General Agum Gumelar, a reformist military leader, to speak frankly about the possibility of insubordination within the armed forces. Liebhold's interview accompanies the story.Tedjasukmana, fresh from embattled Ambon province, returned to Jakarta in time for an outbreak of ethnic protests there. Having to switch cars and drivers to go from the 'Muslim side' to the 'Christian side' in Ambon showed me how divided parts of Indonesia have become, he says, and how difficult it will be to restore the average person's faith in the government and in his countrymen. Indonesians are waiting to see how the President will balance his tremendous power of persuasion with the might of the military to defuse these tensions and ensure that the transition to democracy is irreversible.

The most recent scene of tension is the island paradise of Lombok. The airport was awfully quiet when I flew in, says Loebis of that normally bustling tourist destination. The streets were deserted. There wasn't any public transportation. This was not the Lombok I knew, the place where I'd gone for a holiday every year for the past six years. One consolation was that the damage caused by the fighting between Christians and Muslims wasn't as bad as press reports had led her to believe--and not nearly as awful as the chaos she witnessed in East Timor when she covered that province's traumatic break with Indonesian rule last year. But the chill that I felt looking at Lombok's devastated Immanuel church, with stained-glass scattered everywhere and the most grotesque anti-Christian graffiti on the charred walls, was exactly the same chill I felt driving around East Timor. Looking at one of the scrawled messages, this is your first warning, I knew that this is going to be yet another long and difficult year for my country.