Last edited: November 06, 2004

Former U.S. Envoy Asks Bush Not to Meet Mahathir

Reuters, April 17, 2002

By Simon Cameron-Moore

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia—Washington’s ambassador to Malaysia at the height of the Anwar crisis implored President Bush Wednesday to withdraw his invitation to Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad to visit the White House next month. Former ambassador John Mallot’s three-year stint in Malaysia covered the period when Mahathir sacked his Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, who was then jailed.

A career diplomat appointed by the former Clinton administration, Mallot remains a bitter critic of the veteran Malaysia leader and an advocate for Anwar, now serving a 15-year jail sentence for abuse of power and sodomy.

"I think my President George Bush should reconsider his position on whether to meet Prime Minister Mahathir," Mallot told Reuters from California, where he now teaches.

Bush will thank Mahathir for his support for the war on terror during a visit set for May 13-15. U.S. concern about what it called Anwar’s flawed and politically tainted trials has been muted since the Sept. 11 plane attacks on the United States, with the focus now on Mahathir’s detention of alleged Islamic militants.

"In order to combat terrorism after September 11 we are ready to hold our noses again and meet people who abhor and step on every principle the United States has believed in for the past 200 years," said Mallot, who retired early from government service in 1999 after 31 years.

U.S. officials played down Mallot’s views. "Mr. Mallot retired from the foreign service three years ago and the view he expresses are those of a private citizen," said a U.S. embassy official in Kuala Lumpur.

Clearly, James A. Kelly, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, had different priorities when he met Mahathir during a visit to Kuala Lumpur in the past week.

Kelly said he did not raise the Anwar issue in talks largely focused on the war on terror, and warmly praised Mahathir.

Hunger Strike

Mallot voiced support and concern for six Anwar supporters who have gone on hunger strike at a detention camp in northern Malaysia, where they are being held without trial under a security law. Anwar joined the hunger strike Sunday night but is taking fluids.

A Malaysian official says the men, who were arrested a year ago and are accused of plotting the overthrow of the government, will be force-fed should their condition deteriorate seriously.

Former ambassador Mallot said Malaysia has consistently given solid support to the United States in efforts to counter narcotics and terrorism, and valued U.S. military cooperation.

But he said Mahathir, while always ready to woo U.S. business, showed scant regard for democracy, human rights and freedom.

These are principles Anwar genuinely upholds, Mallot says.

Many leading Malaysian moderates resent Mallot’s commenting on Malaysian affairs, saying the United States is in no position to preach given its own record of mandatory death sentences, urban violence, recorded instances of police brutality, its record on racial issues, and its painful history in Southeast Asia.

Moderate Malaysians were also offended by vice-president Al Gore’s praise for Anwar supporters demonstrating for political change while he visited Kuala Lumpur in November 1998.

Mahathir has led Malaysia for 21 years, heading a multi-ethnic coalition currently holding a two-thirds majority.

Anwar’s National Justice Party (Keadilan) is the smaller partner in an alliance with a fundamentalist Parti Islam se-Malaysia (PAS).

Some PAS supporters called for a jihad, or holy war, against the United States following the U.S.-led bombing of Afghanistan, and some have been arrested on suspicion of militancy.

Elections are due by 2004.

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