US split on Jakarta sanctions

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The Independent Online
SHARP disagreements are expected to force the Clinton administration to postpone its threat to withdraw Indonesia's trading privileges unless the military-dominated government respects labour rights. Washington had set today as the deadline, but is likely to give Jakarta more time.

Indonesia had been targeted as a warning to east Asian economies in general that the administration would no longer tolerate repressive practices which keep the prices of their exports artificially low. The country has only one recognised union, and soldiers are frequently called in by factory owners to break up wildcat strikes. Minimum-wage regulations are widely ignored.

Under pressure from Washington, Jakarta has abolished the regulation allowing the military to intervene in strikes, but human rights organisations say they still do so. Three leaders of an independent trade union organisation were arrested just before a national strike on Friday which brought out 150,000 workers. Although the union chairman was released the next day, the authorities say he will be tried on charges of fomenting hatred against the government.

Most members of the US administration agree Indonesia has not done enough, but in what may be a preview of similar arguments later this year over China, there is a split between those calling for sanctions and others who believe the country should be given more time, arguing that action now might discourage President Suharto's apparent efforts to reduce military influence.

One US source yesterday predicted a compromise under which the position will be reviewed in four to five months.