The Week Ahead
The Blow-Up in ASEAN; Battle Over Estrada; How Did an Indian Gangster
Escape in Bangkok?
BY S. WAYNE MORRISON
Web posted at 5:30 p.m. Hong Kong time, 5:30 a.m. EDT
will the Singapore government respond to Indonesian President Wahid Abdurrahman's
attack on it over the weekend? Perhaps more important, how will ASEAN
respond? That there are, and always have been, strains in ASEAN is no
secret. The 10-nation grouping brings together different forms of government
(democracy, semi-democracy and authoritarian), different levels of economic
development, as well as populations that are racially different or mixed
and predominantly Muslim, Buddhist or Christian.
But no ASEAN leader - not even Malaysia's blunt-spoken Mahathir Mohamad
- has delivered such a withering blast at a fellow member state as Wahid
directed at Singapore. Apparently upset partly because ASEAN conference
host Singapore had not picked up on his idea to bring East Timor and Papua
New Guinea into ASEAN, Wahid suggested that his country and Malaysia join
together to control the city-state's water resources to "teach it a lesson."
He also said that before, only Mahathir had been brave enough to confront
Singapore, but "now . . . Malaysia has a new friend." Other remarks: "Singaporeans
despise Malays - we're considered non-existent." "They [Singaporeans]
look after themselves. All they look for are profits." Wahid said that
he had met Singapore Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew, who believed that he
would soon step down as Indonesian leader.
Indonesia was dominant in ASEAN. While its economy is still reeling from
the Asian Crisis, Indonesia has the largest population of more than 200
million in the grouping. ASEAN puts a premium on cooperation and non-interference.
At the weekend, ASEAN and the countries of Northeast Asia agreed to work
toward an East Asia Free Trade Zone and set up an annual East Asia Summit,
goals that will require the full cooperation of all states. Indonesia, itself
struggling economically, needs assistance and support from other countries.
Indeed, during the early months of the Crisis, Singapore had made available
substantial monetary assistance to its southern neighbor. Clearly, much
diplomatic repair work will be needed in ASEAN following Wahid's outburst.
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Impeached President Joseph Estrada is trying to have corruption charges
quashed by the Philippine Senate, which is due to start trying him in December.
Estrada's efforts to unplug the impeachment proceedings - plus planned big
rallies in Metro Manila today - are this week's news. Tomorrow, Estrada's
lawyers will hear the Senate's decision on their motion to have the charges
thrown out. Today, the 11 congressmen who will act as prosecutors in the
Senate are expected to file a counter-motion that Estrada's pre-emptive
move not be accepted. Meanwhile, pro-Estrada circles are talking confidently
of having the numbers in the Senate for the president to be acquitted if
and when he goes on trial.
Allegation in Gangster' s Escape
How did seemingly bedridden Indian gangster Chota Rajan give Thai authorities
the slip and escape from Samitivej Hospital in Bangkok on Nov. 24? Rajan
had been under treatment for gunshot wounds, the result of an Indian mafia
shootout in in Bangkok on Sept. 15. The attack on him was reportedly carried
out by a gang of Pakistani gunmen hired by Dubai-based rival mafia boss
Dawood Ibrahim. According to a recorded telephone conversation with his
lawyer, Rajan paid 25 million baht ($600,000) to a Thai police general to
be allowed to "walk free" from the hospital last Friday. In fact, he may
have lowered himself by rope from his fourth-floor room or walked out an
emergency exit. Thai police deny the bribery allegation. Rajan was facing
extradition to India where he is facing 17 charges of murder and other counts.
The Rajan case may prove to be another blow to Thailand's police force,
which has a reputation for corruption. The reverberations from his escape
are bound to continue at a time when corruption (particularly in the political
system) has been under scrutiny in Thailand.
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November 30, 2000