Where to go next: Canggu, Bali

Conventional wisdom suggests you follow the backpackers to find the best emerging destinations, but in Indonesia’s Bali you do better by following the expats: And the expats are building their dream homes in Canggu, an arc of land nestled between what used to be a well-kept surfer secret, and yawning stretches of enameled rice paddy.

Bali’s next wave of serious development is poised to hit this west coast area, where volcanic sands are just a short drive from the sophisticated restaurants and ever-sprouting local designer shops of Seminyak.

But for now, Canggu offers old school Bali. Pack a picnic, jump on a pushbike and work up a sweat as you roll through glorious patchwork scenery dotted with villages and temples shrouded in wafting incense.

Pro surfers lament its growing reputation but still gravitate to the three excellent breaks on Echo Beach, while their spectators feast on Sunday afternoon fresh seafood barbecues washed down with local Bintang beers at the Beach House, or munch on cheese toasties in foreigner-friendly warungs.

Sipping cocktails at Sticky Fingers’ rooftop terrace while the sun dips is another option.

Despite the relative isolation there’s no need to forsake creature comforts. Stay at one of several unique hotels in the Canggu surrounds or a plush private villa to savour your own little patch of serenity.

Desa Seni boasts an array of antique wooden houses shipped in from around the Indonesian archipelago and reconstructed village-style. Their fairyland garden includes an organic veggie patch that backs up their eat-local philosophy, and their breezy yoga space plays host to daily classes.

The lavishly decorated Hotel Tugu bills itself as a museum boutique hotel and is literally overflowing with Indonesian antiques and art. Guests can take their meals anywhere on the meandering premises.

The three-year-old Canggu Club has cemented the area’s reputation as a haven for expats and also offers passes for tourists, giving them access to play sports such as tennis and squash or take a yoga class ($30 plus 10% tax per day, $100 plus 10% tax per week, http://www.cangguclub.com). The splash pool is excellent for kids, and the popular Trattoria Italian restaurant chain now has an outlet open to the public here.

GETTING THERE

Canggu is a 30-minute drive from Bali’s Ngurah Rai International Airport, which is well served by foreign airlines

WHERE TO STAY

Desa Seni (62-361-844-6392; www.desaseni.com; houses from USD150, plus tax and service), Hotel Tugu Bali (62-361-731701; www.tuguhotels.com; suites from USD265, plus tax and service) or Pantai Lima (62-361-844-4555; pantailima.com; villas from USD1,400, plus tax and service)

Lush Ubud

Lotus flower in Ubud
Lotus flower in Ubud

UBUD, Indonesia, March 1, 2009 (Scanorama) — The traditional cultural centre of Indonesia’s Bali, lush Ubud is also a modern hub of creativity, home to world-class retreats, restaurants, and designer cool. Samantha Brown indulges in facials, martinis and retail therapy to bring you the best picks of this mountain town.

Classic fare
A step up from an Indonesian streetside warung, Ibu Oka’s serves up Bali’s delectable speciality: babi guling, or suckling pig, at ridiculous prices. The lunchtime rush is absurd, so get in early, grab a seat at one of the communal tables, and savour the many imaginative ways the many parts of a pig can be cooked!

Jalan Suweta +62 361 976 345 
Continue reading Lush Ubud

Ubud City Guide

The edited version of this story is available online at: http://www.e-magin.se/v5/viewer/files/viewer.aspx?gIssue=2&gTitle=Scanorama&gYear=2009&gUserID=0&gPaperID=24363&gAvailWidth=&gAvailHeight=&gInitPage=0&gHotspot=0

The traditional cultural centre of Indonesia’s Bali, lush Ubud is also a modern hub of creativity, home to world-class retreats, restaurants, and designer cool. Samantha Brown indulges in facials, martinis and retail therapy to bring you the best picks of this mountain town.

Classic fare

A step up from an Indonesian streetside warung, Ibu Oka’s serves up Bali’s delectable speciality: babi guling, or suckling pig, at ridiculous prices. The lunchtime rush is absurd, so get in early, grab a seat at one of the communal tables, and savour the many imaginative ways the many parts of a pig can be cooked!
Jalan Suweta
+62 361 976 345

Caffeine pitstop

The airy Ubud institution of Casa Luna offers melt-in-the-mouth pastries with sharp-jab coffees, served under whirling fans. Meals with both Balinese and Italian accents are also fabulous, and if you simply must have more, sign up for one of their well-regarded cooking classes.
Jalan Raya Ubud
+62 361 977 409
www.casalunabali.com

Dinner for two

Launch with a cocktail in Mozaic’s tres chic lounge before heading to their candlelit garden, where discreet waiters deliver six-course set meals. Choose from Indonesian- or Western-inspired, vegetarian or the chef’s surprise menu, each with the option of matching wines. Pricey but worth every rupiah (and the perfect outing for a little black dress).
Jalan Raya Sanggingan
+62 361 975 768
www.mozaic-bali.com

Get rhythm

Bali is famous for its exquisite dances and Ubud is an excellent spot to be mesmerised by a trance-like performance. Ubud Palace, opposite Ubud’s central market, has performances most days at 7:30pm. Stop by to check the current programme.
Opposite Ubud market

Paint-by-numbers

Balinese artists are enjoying a global surge of popularity, so pick up some knowledge that may pay off handsomely while also immersing yourself in some of the best art inspired by the island, some by foreigners, at the respected Neka Art Museum.
Jalan Raya Campuhan
+62 0361 975 074
www.museumneka.com

Market madness

Brush up your haggling skills and make a beeline for Ubud’s central market. This is the place to snap up everything from dirt-cheap sarongs to elegant silks, with a wide range of other crafty items and surprises in between.
Corner of Jalan Raya Ubud and Jalan Monkey Forest

Magic minimalism

Kou consists of two hole-in-the-wall sister shops specialising in, organic soaps, handmade jams and sea salt. Frangipani and tuberose scented soaps will make house guests swoon and you may want to make mango jam your hostess dinner-party offering for the year ahead.
Cuisine on Jalan Monkey Forest, soap on Jalan Dewi Sita
+62 361 972 319

Snazzy stuff

Grab a local designer hat or have a Tibetan butter lamp shipped home for you from The Shop, an upscale boutique lying on Ubud’s outskirts just outside the Four Seasons. Impeccably styled, with prices to match.
Jalan Raya Sayan No. 52
+62 361 973 506
www.shopatTheShop.com

Smooth and sultry

Ubud shuts down early so bars are few and far between, but Jazz Cafe fits the bill for a few rounds of drinks, sipped listening to some live — you guessed it — Jazz. Performances wrap up at 10:30pm, doors shut at midnight.
Jalan Sukma
+62 361 976 594
http://www.jazzcafebali.com

Mmmm, martinis

Strictly speaking, Naughty Nuri’s is a restaurant a mere step-up from a roadside shack, but the best martinis in town are to be found here. Try not to be too put out when your waitperson orders you to immediately swallow a few gulps so they can top your glass with what’s left in the shaker. Their spare ribs, too, are amazing.
Jalan Raya Campuhan
Across the road from Neka Art Museum
+62 361 977 547

Before bed

The airy, sleek Ary’s Warung is the perfect spot for an Irish coffee or a final glass of chilled white wine. It’s a restaurant as well, so pair your drink with one of their thigh-busting desserts. Or do get in early and enjoy one of their superb and very affordable degustation menus.
Jalan Raya Ubud
+62 361 975 053
www.dekco.com/aryswarung

Cheap as chips

Ubud is dotted with pleasant enough homestays where for just a few dollars a night you can enjoy life in a Balinese family compound. If you savour your privacy but don’t want to spend big, Ubud Bungalow offers spotless rooms in two-storey bungalows sprawling through a manicured garden that stretches to a pool. Fan rooms start at US$37, air-conditioned US$47.
Jalan Monkey Forest
+62 361 971 298
www.ubudbungalow.com

Respectably swish

Lovely Alila’s drawcard is its infinity edge swimming pool, jutting out into a gorge filled with birdsong. Impeccable service and stylish rooms make this hotel a fine example of how spending a little more in Ubud gets you a lot. Online rates start at US$180++.
Desa Melinggih Kelod
Payangan, Gianyar
+62 361 975 963
www.alilahotels.com

Divine digs

Como Shambhala Estate is one of Ubud’s most salubrious getaways, targetting stressed-out executives who retreat to their swish residences to undertake wellness programmes. Choose from rooms with classical Balinese and Javanese touches to minimalist ones, all incredibly private. Their spa has been named one of the world’s best, with jaw-dropping views of the Ayung River gorge.
Begawan Giri, Banjar Begawan, Desa Melinggih Kelod
Payangan, Gianyar
+62 361 978 888
comoshambhala.bz

INDONESIA: Bali bird flu drill tests pandemic preparedness

BALI – Indonesia, indeed the world, had never seen anything like it. In a sleepy Balinese village, panic flares as some 20 people are feared to have suddenly been infected with avian influenza. The village is quarantined as medical workers clad in full protective body gear swing into action. The military and police are drafted in to halt what could be the beginnings of a deadly and disastrous global human bird flu pandemic.

The three-day simulated exercise from 25-27 April, which included a drill at Bali’s international airport aimed at preventing travellers from exporting the H5N1 virus, was held in the country most likely to be the epicentre of a significant human outbreak, if not full-scale pandemic. Indonesia has suffered 108 bird flu deaths, the highest toll anywhere in the world.

Fourteen deaths alone have occurred in 2008 as archipelagic Indonesia, which was initially accused of being slow to respond to its outbreaks, grapples with the virus now endemic in birds in 31 of the country’s 33 sprawling provinces.

Bayu Krisnamurthi, executive director of Indonesia’s National Committee for Bird Flu Control and Pandemic Preparedness, said the simulation was just part of Indonesia’s overall avian flu/pandemic preparedness strategy. He said more must be done in preparation for a possible pandemic. But he hailed the exercise, which it took around six months to prepare.

"It was very successful, particularly in terms of participation and the attention from international partners," he told IRIN, referring to the over 50 international observer groups who attended the massive drill.

The airport portion of the exercise drew bemused and baffled responses from some travellers, who were swamped by mask-clad workers and made to pass through scanners detecting body temperatures as part of the drill.

"Now we know where we have a lack of knowledge or skills. We know where the gaps are that must be improved in future – that’s what simulations are for," Krisnamurthi said.

Indonesia has suffered 108 bird flu deaths, the highest toll anywhere in the world. Fourteen deaths alone have occurred in 2008 alone.

Some of the lessons learned, which are to be analysed by Indonesian officials at a meeting in May, included the simple logistical difficulty of properly isolating a village and containing the disease’s spread, as well as communicating effectively on the ground between the many agencies coordinating the response.

"The understanding of a pandemic still needs to be improved,” Krisnamurthi said. “We need more training."

Some interesting hiccups emerged from the perspective of the international observers, Annu Lehtinen, the UN’s Regional Avian and Human Influenza Coordinator, told IRIN. For example, the tropical heat of Bali meant that medical workers could not stay outdoors in protective gear as long as they might in other climates, a problem which needs to be addressed in improving the effectiveness of the response plan to a pandemic.

How much the Indonesians take on board after the simulation will be the real test of the exercise’s success, said Lehtinen.

"I think the critical thing is how the evaluation results will be taken into consideration when revising the national plan and revising procedures,” she said. “It (the drill) was absolutely a step in the right direction… [but] it’s not enough,” she told IRIN. “You need to carefully take into consideration what has been learned."

Subhash Salunke, head of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Indonesia, said that though the exercise was held in Bali – where only two bird flu deaths have been confirmed – it involved national agencies, so broad lessons relevant across the nation could be learned. It was also useful for the international community, he said.

"It was a wonderful exercise for training staff in other provinces and districts, as well as other countries… because no other country has done this," Salunke told IRIN. "It was very satisfying that the Indonesian government has undertaken this and they are planning now to extend it to other provinces,” he said. “This can’t be a one-time exercise and then we forget about it."

The next step, the national commission’s Bayu said, will be incorporating the gaps that were found through the simulation into Indonesia’s national strategy, as well as holding more exercises in up to seven other provinces, with at least some in urban areas which would be, he conceded, "more complex".

Krisnamurthi said the simulations were helping to fine-tune Indonesia’s overall national strategy: "It’s learning while doing, and improving. We are building our ship while sailing it – it’s not finished."

Indonesian grandmother spreads green ways in smoggy Jakarta

BANJARSARI, Indonesia: Harini Bambang Wahono’s classroom is a kaleidoscope of greens, a fitting colour scheme for the 77-year-old grandmother who has been teaching green ways for almost 30 years.

A poster on the wall commands: "Reduce, recycle, reuse, replant" — the philosophy that Ibu Bambang, as she is known, seeks to spread throughout her Jakarta neighbourhood.

Doing so presents a particular challenge in polluted Jakarta, a mega-city of at least 11 million, but Ibu Bambang has won wide recognition for her efforts to re-green the Banjarsari community, a neighbourhood of narrow criss-crossing streets just off a traffic-clogged main road.

Homes are shaded by potted plants, bins encourage waste separation and residents recycle their garbage.

Photographs on Ibu Bambang’s classroom walls show visitors coming from as far away as Bangladesh to see how one person puts the slogan "think globally, act locally" into daily practice.

Barefoot, with large bifocals perched crookedly on her nose, Ibu Bambang runs through the lessons she teaches the 218 neighbourhood families and her stream of visitors.

Those red plastic bags? They can be transformed into plastic flowers to decorate a coffee table. Your organic kitchen waste? This accelerator will turn it into odorless compost in a few weeks. And that potted plant keeps away mosquitoes.

"After the environment becomes green and clean, we become healthy too," she lectures. "If we throw away our garbage, only hundreds of years later will it become earth again. It is a very long time. We have to do something so that our earth is not full of waste."

— Green beginnings for an environmental hero —

Ibu Bambang’s father, an agricultural official during Indonesia’s Dutch colonial period, taught her the importance of living in harmony with the land.

"I am still consistent in my love for plants and in managing waste," she tells AFP during an interview in the fan-cooled classroom attached to her home.

"This is even more relevant now, with the issue of global warming."

In 1980, she moved to Banjarsari with her husband, who became the neighbourhood head. Ibu Bambang, a former teacher, led government-sponsored programmes aimed at improving community life, including one on environmental sustainability.

"I thought: What if I turn this neighbourhood’s environment into one that I have always dreamed of since I was small — one full of plants, one that’s clean. That’s where it all started."

Initially it was tough, as some housewives were illiterate or had very little knowledge of plants, or even basic hygiene and cleanliness.

"Therefore I tried a very personal approach — offering to teach them to read and write, until later they saw me as some sort of mother," she says.

"Only after that, I asked them to help gradually, slowly turn this environment into a green environment."

In 1996, UNESCO enlisted Ibu Bambang in their efforts to introduce integrated waste management at the neighbourhood level.

Jan Steffen, a UNESCO programme specialist, believes the grandmother has held more than 1,000 training sessions since then, received visitors from 31 of 33 Indonesian provinces, as well as about 10 countries in the region.

While similar programmes in Jakarta have launched successfully, they have tended to peter out, Steffen says.

"That’s what makes Ibu Bambang unique: she has not only given a lot of energy towards these initiatives, but she has maintained it over a decade," he said. "She is, in her own modest way, an environmental hero."

— Global warming will destroy our earth; we have to save our earth —

In 2003, Banjarsari was seen as such a success that the government declared it a tourist destination, with visitors able to buy medicinal plants and compost sold by residents, thus giving the neighbourhood an economic incentive for their environmentally-friendly habits.

Now Ibu Bambang provides guidance to other neighbourhoods — about 20 so far — where residents wish to turn green.

Still, not everyone participates. Ibu Bambang estimates just over half the households on Banjasari are fully on board with her programmes. Those opting out are too busy with their work "or too lazy or just do not care," she sighs.

Despite her impeccably green credentials, Ibu Bambang claims not to know too much about climate change — but she has the fundamentals down pat, saying: "I only know that global warming will destroy our earth and we have to save our earth."

Her voice will be heard through a documentary being shown at a global climate change conference Indonesia is hosting this week.

The key UN conference gathering some 190 countries is taking place in Bali with the aim of setting a strategy for negotiations to beef up action against climate change after 2012.

Indonesia, home to massive peatlands and natural forests, follows the United States and China as the world’s third biggest producer of greenhouse gases.

Ibu Bambang realises her efforts at the grassroots of society are a vital component in raising awareness of the threat of global warming.

"I will continue my activities until the end of my life, maybe, rather than do nothing.

"I am being highly sought after by many, but paid by none," she laughs.

"But I am very happy to do that, I am very happy that I can do something for my people, for my country."

Southeast Asia gears up for palm oil boom

JAKARTA, Sept 16, 2007 (AFP) – Southeast Asian nations are gearing up for a palm oil boom as interest in biofuels soars, but activists warn the crop may not satisfy a global thirst for energy that is both clean and green.

They caution that oil palm plantations require massive swathes of land — either what’s left of the region’s disappearing forests, denuded plots that would be better off reforested, or land critical to supporting local people.

Governments and companies have been scrambling to cash in since palm oil prices jumped last year due to spiking demand from China, India and Europe, where biofuels should comprise 10 percent of motor fuels by 2020.

Indonesia has launched a particularly ambitious biofuels expansion programme, which aims to see Southeast Asia’s largest economy source 17 percent of its energy needs from renewable sources by 2025.

Evita Herawati, an assistant to Indonesia’s minister of energy, said 5.5 million hectares (13.5 million acres) will be set aside for biofuel plantations by 2010, 1.5 million hectares of which are for oil palm.

The main objective is "to create jobs and alleviate poverty," with some 3.5 million new jobs being eyed by 2010.

"A lot of forest has been cut down but they didn’t use it at all. We would like to use it for this programme," she told AFP, adding that so far 58 deals worth a total of 12.4 billion dollars have been signed with companies.

She estimated that just in Kalimantan, the Indonesian portion of Borneo island, about 5.5 million hectares are available for use — an area far larger than Denmark and a bit smaller than Sri Lanka. Nine million additional hectares are available elsewhere, Herawati said.

The issue of where the land will come from worries activists, who point out that much of Indonesia’s peatland forests have already been destroyed, releasing huge amounts of carbon dioxide.

Rully Syumanda, of Indonesia’s environmental watchdog Walhi, said proposing palm oil plantations has been used in recent years in Indonesia "as a pretext to clear land and take the more valuable logs".

He estimates that nearly 17 million hectares of Indonesia’s forests have been cleared ostensibly for oil palm plantations since the 1960s, but only six million hectares have been cultivated.

Though he concedes that the government is now making efforts to reforest, catch offenders and audit the industry, Syumanda said these were "insignificant compared to the damage that is being inflicted on the environment".

Rudi Lumuru, from Sawit Watch, an industry monitor, meanwhile said much of this "empty" land is actually used by local people. He reckons more than 500 communities have been embroiled in conflicts with more than 100 palm oil companies, typically from Malaysia.

"This land has been used since a long time ago by the people. They live on the land, they grow on the land," he said. "The government says people can make money, but it’s about transition of culture. The culture of the farmers, it’s rice, coffee, cocoa — it’s not palm oil."

— Compensation too little to deter corruption —

While compensation payments may be meted out, they end up being meagre thanks to endemic corruption, he added.

The Indonesian industry says it is cleaning up its act.

"The industry now is trying to avoid destroying land," said Derom Bangun, executive chairman of the Indonesian Palm Oil Association. "Companies no longer clear land by burning or in ways that harm the environment or wildlife."

Indonesian companies have joined the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a WWF-led initiative to engage palm oil companies, and is trying to abide by their principles, he said.

Technology minister Agusman Effendi said that economic factors as well as "sustainability of the environment and the way the government can give extra support to the poor" needed to be considered.

"The ‘what’ has been defined clearly, but the ‘how to’ is the thing that has been criticised by the public," he said.

Companies in Malaysia, the world’s largest palm oil producer — expected to be eclipsed by Indonesia this year — are being lured here by the vast expanses of already-cleared land.

Malaysian plantations minister Peter Chin insists palm oil production does not damage the environment and said Malaysian companies will boost productivity by replanting with higher yielding clones and adopting good agronomic practice.

"We are committed to ensuring that whatever we do now is not at the expense of the environment and our future generations," he said.

According to the Malaysian Palm Oil Board, 65 percent of Malaysia’s total land area of almost 33 million hectares is comprised of forest. Palm oil plantations use 12 percent.

Alvin Tai, plantation analyst at OSK Securities, said most of the companies listed on the Malaysian bourse are expanding in Indonesia as landbank in Malaysia is limited.

He said most major plantation firms were RSPO members and "they have the resources to maintain those standards. It’s the smaller plantation owners that are a concern".

— As prices rise, farmers devote more land to palm oil —

Meena Rahman from Friends of the Earth Malaysia disputes the government’s claims and says the group is particularly concerned about projects in Sarawak, on the Malaysian side of Borneo island.

She says there is evidence that 1.5 million hectares of land that was to be set aside for protection and water catchment purposes has been planted with oil palm as well as pulp and wood trees.

"Maybe what Peter Chin is saying is that they are planting palm oil in areas that have already been logged — but they should allow reforestation to take place instead of allowing palm oil expansion," she said.

Malaysia’s northern neighbour Thailand is also getting in on the game.

High prices for palm oil, driven by Bangkok’s search for alternative fuels, have driven more and more farmers to convert rubber and fruit plantations to grow oil palm, an official from Thailand’s agriculture ministry said.

Local prices of palm oil have almost doubled to more than four baht (seven cents) per kilogramme (2.2 pounds) from two baht last year.

Last year Thailand had some 32,000 hectares planted with oil palm, but the area is expected to jump to 81,000 by year end. An additional 400,000 hectares of unused farmland in the south could also be used, the official said.

The government has provided soft loans to help farmers make the switch, and is considering a floor price for the crop, she said, adding that "we don’t have environmental issues" linked to palm oil, like Thailand and Malaysia.

The Philippines meanwhile has about 25,000 hectares under cultivation, but some 454,000 hectares of "disposable land" — pasture or shrubbery — mostly in the south, has been earmarked as well, the agriculture department said.

So far however, only one Singapore-based company has come sniffing, seeking at least 25,000 hectares of land.

Suharto win puts Indonesia court under scrutiny: analysts

JAKARTA, Sept 11, 2007 (AFP) – A decision by Indonesia’s top court to award ex-dictator Suharto millions of dollars in a defamation suit calls the judiciary’s integrity into question and imperils press freedom, activists and analysts warned Tuesday.

The Supreme Court ordered on Monday that US-based Time magazine pay damages to Suharto to the tune of 106 million dollars for publishing an article in 1999 that alleged the former president squirrelled away billions of dollars abroad.

Time said in its story that it had traced some 15 billion dollars in wealth accumulated by Suharto and his six children following a four-month investigation across 11 countries.

This allegedly included nine billion dollars in cash transferred from a Swiss to an Austrian bank shortly after Suharto stepped down in May 1998.

The court also ruled that Time apologise to 86-year-old Suharto, who has never stood trial over persistent allegations of massive corruption during his 32-year rule.

The ruling showed the Supreme Court was out of touch with "the new situation now prevailing in Indonesia," said Amiruddin, a campaign coordinator for Elsham, a private policy institute.

Suharto’s downfall ushered in an era of reform to the world’s fourth most populous nation, but many have been disappointed over the pace of change in some areas — such as the judiciary, where Suharto’s shadow still looms large.

"We can only surmise that the characteristics of many of the Supreme Court judges have not changed from, let us say, 10 years ago. They continue to put Suharto on a pedestal, as he if he was a god," Amiruddin told AFP.

"The only way (to instigate change) is to inject young blood into that institution," he said.

Fadjroel Rachman, who heads an Indonesian research group working to uncover Suharto’s crimes, said he feared the "scandalous" decision may colour other court action underway against Suharto and his youngest son Tommy.

State prosecutors are bringing a civil suit against Suharto over alleged corruption related to some foundations he chaired. They are seeking 1.5 billion dollars in returned state assets and damages.

Tommy meanwhile is facing criminal and civil graft-related suits.

"The Supreme Court is being used to save corruptors… The individuals in the Supreme Court behind this case are Suharto’s proteges," Rachman charged.

He noted that head judge Bagir Manan, who was on the three-judge panel ruling in Suharto’s favour, had cut a jail term Tommy was serving for ordering the murder of a judge.

Manan was also on a panel that quashed the conviction of a pilot for murdering a high-profile activist critical of Suharto-era abuses.

"This is suspicious," he said.

Supreme Court judges — at most, 60 — are selected by a judicial commission and approved by parliament. They retain their post until retirement.

Gunawan Muhammad, former editor of the Tempo weekly news magazine, said that the impact of the decision was to cast "the Supreme Court itself in a bad light," adding that it was also a worrying move for press freedom.

Frans Hendra Winata, a member of the national commission of law, described the ruling as a significant setback for a formerly shackled press which has flourished since Suharto’s demise.

The press "will not be able to help efforts to eradicate corruption and with this verdict, it is now clear on whose side the Supreme Court is… The press will now think twice before reporting on corruption," he said.

Julia Fromholz from Human Rights First, a New York-based organisation that monitors accountability in Indonesia, said the decision stood in stark contrast to the failure to bring rights cases from Suharto’s era to trial.

"The courts have long failed to hold past and current officials accountable for their actions, but this decision even further highlights the persistence of impunity in Indonesia," she told AFP.

Three years on, killer of Indonesian activist still at large

JAKARTA, Sept 6, 2007 (AFP) – Three years after the high-profile Indonesian activist Munir Said Thalib died on an Amsterdam-bound flight after imbibing a lethal dose of arsenic, the mystery of who ordered his death looms large here.

Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has said solving the September 7, 2004 murder of Munir, a 37-year-old father of two, would be a test of the nation’s progress in reform since the end of the repressive Suharto era.

So far, Indonesia has failed.

Pollycarpus Priyanto, a Garuda pilot who travelled off-duty on the fateful flight and is accused of links to the powerful national intelligence agency, BIN, was convicted of the murder in 2005.

Munir’s supporters believe someone else masterminded the killing and have campaigned to find out who, suspecting the answer lay within the ranks of BIN.

When the Supreme Court quashed Priyanto’s conviction in October last year, his supporters were stunned.

"We didn’t even get a scapegoat. This was crazy," Usman Hamid, a human rights worker for Kontras, one of the organisations founded by Munir, told AFP.

Thanks to widespread international support, a new head of the police’s criminal investigation department was appointed in 2006 and a new attorney-general installed this year, and the case has been rekindled.

A Jakarta courtroom has been hearing startling fresh testimony from a cast of characters seemingly plucked from the pages of a paperback thriller as state prosecutors seek to have the Supreme Court review their decision.

There’s the long-haired musician, who told police he saw Priyanto with Munir at a coffee shop at Changi airport during transit. He then changed his testimony on the stand, alleging he was whisked to Singapore, where he was warned he would be charged with the murder unless he testified to seeing the pair together.

There’s the detained former Garuda head Indra Setiawan, who was mortified to hear a tape recording aired in court of a phone conversation in which Priyanto assures him the pair have nothing to worry about.

"Almost 90 percent of state functionaries are on our side," including the Supreme Court’s chief and his deputy, the pilot said on the tape.

"And the justice will not be there, will never be there. You are only being sought to go after me, and this is in reality only a political game, so that SBY does not get prodded by the NGOs," Priyanto said, referring to the president by his initials.

Setiawan testified he had received a classified letter from BIN asking that Priyanto be assigned to corporate security, a move that allowed him to gain access to Munir’s flight.

The letter — now missing — links Priyanto solidly to the agency.

Then there is the junior intelligence agent, who told police he was ordered to kill Munir and recounted various plots, including asking a paranormal expert to cast a hex on the activist.

But he later told the court he was only ordered to monitor Munir.

Opinion on how the case will pan out, with its inconsistent evidence, is mixed.

Munir’s widow, Suciwati, told AFP that her grief "requires justice" and that she remains optimistic that the conspiracy will eventually be exposed.

"I’m expecting a good surprise that will bring this case closer to capturing the masterminds and bringing them to justice," she said.

But Ken Conboy, a security analyst who has written a book on Indonesia’s intelligence service, is not convinced.

"Recent Indonesian history is filled with these frustrating mysteries," he said.

"If someone intended this to shut (Munir) up, to send a signal to activists, it hasn’t been the result. The result is that the activists haven’t bowed down to this and Munir is much larger in death than in life," he told AFP.

Asmara Nababan, a member of a fact-finding team appointed by the president to uncover the masterminds — whose report was never made public — believes Priyanto should be re-convicted.

"But to find the one who made the decision… the evidence presented in the court is not enough," Nababan, a former secretary-general of the national human rights commission, told AFP.

He noted that BIN has been "an untouchable institution" for many years and that while Yudhoyono spouts the right rhetoric, he is not sure "that there is really 100 percent support from the president to police."

"If you recall the statement of the president — this is a test of history… I hope we pass this test with a good grade but we’ll see."

Dossier links Indonesian intelligence to activist murder

JAKARTA, Aug 15, 2007 (AFP) – Indonesian state prosecutors have compiled an array of fresh evidence that implicates the powerful state intelligence agency in the murder of a rights activist, according to a document obtained by AFP.

Munir Said Thalib, Indonesia’s most prominent rights activist, was poisoned as he travelled from Jakarta to Amsterdam in September 2004.

He had made many enemies during the rule of dictator Suharto, and after his 1998 downfall.

In a plot worthy of a spy thriller, an off-duty pilot from the state-run airline Garuda Indonesia, who is accused of links to Indonesia’s intelligence agency BIN, was convicted of slipping a lethal dose of arsenic into Munir’s food or drink during his flight.

But in a move sparking international outrage, the Supreme Court last year overturned the verdict against Pollycarpus Priyanto, citing insufficient evidence.

A charge that the pilot used a falsified document to board the same Garuda flight as Munir, however, was upheld and he was jailed for two years, although he walked free shortly afterwards.

Now, amid escalating international pressure to find the culprits, state prosecutors are requesting a so-called judicial case review. This would see the Supreme Court reconsider its own decision, based on an admission of fresh evidence or any errors or consistencies in its verdict.

A dossier detailing the evidence is expected to be submitted to a lower court on Thursday, which will determine whether the request is admissible.

If the review goes ahead, the Supreme Court will hear testimony from a series of new witnesses that again points the finger at the pilot, Priyanto, but also finally links him to BIN, according to the dossier seen by AFP.

Connections between Priyanto and BIN have long been alleged — the pilot made some 41 phone calls, for instance, to a senior BIN official around the time of the murder.

But the new evidence is tighter, said an optimistic Usman Hamid, a human rights worker with Kontras, an organisation founded by Munir, who has also seen the dossier.

In it, prosecutors ask why the Supreme Court, which ruled Priyanto was guilty of using the falsified document, did not insist on finding out why he needed to use it; why he offered to swap his business class seat with Munir, who was in economy; and why he had called Munir, whom he did not know, before the flight.

"This is what should have been looked into during the appeal process — the extent of the correlation between the use of the false document with the death of the victim, Munir," state prosecutors say in the document.

Testimony from five new witnesses is recounted, including that of a junior intelligence agent, Raden Mohammad Patma Anwar, who told investigators that he had been ordered by a superior to kill Munir before presidential elections in October 2004 — a month before his death.

Among a series of potential scenarios plotted for Munir’s death was one involving a paranormal expert casting a bad spell on him.

A colleague of the agent "managed to meet with the paranormal expert, but the hex did not work because Munir had a kris," the document cites the agent as saying. A kris is a traditional sword believed to ward off evil.

The agent also said he had seen Priyanto in the parking lot of the BIN headquarters.

Testimony is also recounted from a musician on board the flight who claims he saw Priyanto deliver a drink to Munir during transit at Singapore’s Changi airport.

"The witness saw Pollycarpus coming from the drinks counter carrying two drinks glasses… The witness saw Munir talking to Pollycarpus while drinking," it says.

A medical doctor says the arsenic that killed the 38-year-old father of two appears to have been administered during the transit period.

As well, former Garuda director Indra Setiawan, who is in custody and is expected to be charged with being an accessory to the murder, recounts that he signed a letter assigning Priyanto to assist the carrier’s corporate security unit following a written demand from a senior BIN officer.

The incriminating BIN letter disappeared along with Setiawan’s bag from his car in December 2004, but his testimony alone would link Priyanto to BIN.

Matt Easton, a senior associate with Human Rights First, a US-based organisation that has followed the case closely, said that a credible review of Priyanto’s case is a first step for Indonesia’s judicial system.

"But police and prosecutors can’t stop there if the Indonesian government is serious about holding those who planned and ordered Munir’s murder accountable," he said in an email.

The fresh evidence has left Kontras’ Hamid optimistic. For him, nothing short of Indonesia’s democracy is at stake.

"I cannot imagine how the Indonesian government, Indonesian democracy, can continue if those individuals remain untouchable in the future," he told AFP.

"Law enforcement is just an illusion if we are not able to solve this case. The evidence is there, the witnesses are there. We have no excuse to get out of this situation."

Indonesians told ‘inconvenient truth’ of climate change

JAKARTA, July 19, 2007 (AFP) – In a darkened auditorium on a weekday afternoon, Indonesians are warned that floods in their capital will become more catastrophic and the haze-inducing fires blazing through their forests are partly to blame. A message from Al Gore has arrived.

For the first time in Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous nation and its third largest carbon emitter, a tailored version of the climate change slideshow delivered by former US vice president Gore and featured in the smash movie "An Inconvenient Truth" is underway.

Emerald Starr, an American environmental engineer based in Bali, was one of 200 people trained directly by Gore last year to spread his environmental message around the world.

While Starr has presented the results of his week-long training several times on the resort island, this is the first show to include detailed Indonesian data provided by environmental group WWF, so the impact is strong.

Graphs with soaring and plunging lines are interspersed with startling images of devastation: drought-scarred landscapes in Australia, the wreckage of a typhoon in the Philippines, flood victims in India.

The several-hundred strong audience gasps at photographs of polar bears and penguins perched on melting chunks of ice, as statistic after statistic shows that humans must take responsibility — immediately — for climate change.

Some 60,000 species have disappeared in the past 100 years; 30 new diseases have emerged since 1976. And if current trends continue, a map of Indonesia bleeding blue shows what will happen as a result of rising sea levels by 2070.

"Two islands off Madura (an island off the north coast of Java) are gone and Jakarta — you can imagine the devastation," Starr says.

Indonesia’s main contribution to global warming is through the burning of its forests. Companies typically have concessions of 200,000 hectares (494,000 acres) — three times the size of Jakarta — and some as many as a million, or twice the size of Bali, Starr says.

While the wood is used for pulp, palm oil plantations soon follow, though the companies are supposed to replace the trees with acacia.

"Actually Indonesia has very good environmental policies, but they need to be enforced," Starr explains.

The audience is receptive, but they want to know whether the talk will be repeated elsewhere in Indonesian, rather than English.

"Somebody in the audience is training tonight and if anyone here tonight is interested in that please come and see me," replies Starr, who may deliver his presentation to a UN conference on climate change on Bali in December.

They are also thirsty for more knowledge on what they can do practically. Starr tells them to recycle; to carpool; to change their light-bulbs.

"Never underestimate the power of individual citizens taking steps individually," says Starr, who is not paid for his time here. "Everything you do matters. Nothing is frivolous at this point."

— "All of us have a mission" —

Arif Hasyim, a 35-year-old director of a biogas company, is taken aback by the Indonesian data and tells AFP that people must get organised.

"I myself was quite shocked with what’s happening in Indonesia. It actually had more of an effect on us, because when you’re talking about climate change, (you think of it) happening somewhere else, but not to us," Hasyim says.

"But what about the follow up? What do we have to do? All of us have a mission to gather people together again to move on, from just getting information to the action."

Eric Natanael, a 33-year-old environmental engineer, says the show was "like half of a complete presentation. The other half is what you can do, really, in real terms".

Hundreds of businesspeople are expected to attend Starr’s evening session, but some are here now, including Suzy Hutomo, the CEO of the Body Shop Indonesia.

"I see now that the impact for Indonesia is very real," she says.

"The Body Shop has been ‘green’ but personally now I intend to spread the message to people I know, to my customers."

After meeting with audience members, Starr is pleased with the reaction.

"People were so enthusiastic," he says. "I believe people are going to go out and do something and start making some changes in their lives from this. That’s the most exciting part."