Asia-Pacific leaders recalled former Indonesian president Suharto's strengths, praising him after his death in Jakarta yesterday for modernizing his country and promoting regional unity -- despite a "less than desirable" human rights record.
Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said Suharto played a critical role in building ASEAN, the 10-country bloc that has increased the region's influence in global politics.
"As one of the founding fathers of ASEAN, President Suharto was among those who had the pioneering vision of establishing a more peaceful, progressive and prosperous Southeast Asian region founded on respect and understanding," Arroyo said in a statement from Dubai, where she was traveling.
Arroyo also said Suharto helped negotiate peace between the Philippine government and the Moro National Liberation Front, a Muslim rebel group in the volatile southern area of Mindanao.
"The Filipino people join me in offering deepest sympathies and condolences on the demise of former President Suharto," Arroyo said.
Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd also said Suharto was influential in ASEAN's successful development, as well as that of APEC, a major international body that promotes world trade.
Suharto "presided over the government of what is the world's fourth most populous country and its largest Islamic nation," Rudd said in a statement.
"Until the catastrophic Asian financial crisis of 1997, he oversaw a period of significant economic growth and modernization at a time when Indonesia faced fundamental political, social and economic challenges," he said.
Former Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer said that, despite a "less than desirable" human rights record, Suharto had worked to build ties between the two nations.
"He was always very civil in my dealings with him and very responsive to building a relationship between Australia and Indonesia," Downer said.
A procession of regional leaders, including several of Suharto's contemporaries, came to visit him after he was hospitalized on Jan. 4.