US has ‘no right to target Indonesia’

Intelligence chief says terrorists could easily use Indonesia as base, but that does not mean Washington can move in.

Indonesia’s intelligence chief A.M. Hendropriyono yesterday acknowledged that terrorists could easily establish themselves across the archipelago.

But he said that did not mean Washington had the right to take its war on terror into the country.

“We have to admit that Indonesia could become a pocket for terrorism, so we need to work together with the US,” he told the Antara national news agency.

“But that does not mean the United States can make the area of Indonesia part of its war.”

His comments were seen by some analysts as a signal that Jakarta may not have taken too kindly to the disclosure by the US that the next stage in the war on terror would see efforts made to deny groups sanctuary in places like Indonesia.

The disclosure came from US Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz – a former ambassador to Indonesia – who told the New York Times last week there were areas in the country where the government was “extremely weak”.

“You see the potential for Muslim extremists and Muslim terrorists to link up with those Muslim groups in Indonesia and find a little corner for themselves in a country that’s otherwise quite unfriendly to terrorism,” he said.

It was not immediately clear which aspects of the US position riled Lieutenant-General Hendropriyono – but he made it clear it was in Jakarta’s interests to work with the US against terrorism.

Several senior Indonesian military officers told The Straits Times it was important for Washington to remember that, if it wanted an international coalition against terrorism, it had to work with other nations, not as a “lone ranger”.

A top army general said: “Uncle Sam cannot go around doing its own things in another country … It would be more effective for us to keep things under control within our own borders if we had the money and equipment.

“We hope the reason Washington has got Indonesia and other countries on its target list is based on good intelligence, and is not just a witch hunt to compensate for what the Americans have yet to achieve, which is to catch Osama bin Laden.”

But despite reservations over what Mr Wolfowitz said, the authorities have been working quietly with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to track radical Islamic groups which have become breeding grounds for extremist elements.

Sources said that at least two groups – the Jemaah Islamiah (JI) and possibly elements within the Majelis Mujahidin Indonesia – had global connections to terrorist networks like Al-Qaeda.

Both groups, especially the Java-based JI – several of whose members have been linked to militant groups in Singapore and Malaysia – have reportedly received foreign funding and training.

But little has been done to arrest their members or curb their activities. This has frustrated Washington, which is applying pressure on Jakarta to crack the whip.

Reflecting the sentiment that some in Washington have, an American analyst with a Jakarta-based international risk consultancy said:

“The Americans are keeping a score card for what is being done in Asia. Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines are getting almost-perfect scores for reining in the terrorists. The Indonesians have got a big fat goose egg for not trying hard enough.”

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