After S’pore talks, Jakarta sets up anti-terror force

The high-level team will map out an action plan and coordinate intelligence sharing with neighbouring countries.

Indonesia, under increasing pressure from the international community to crack down on Muslim militants in the country, plans to set up a counter-terrorism task force to deal with the problem.

Defence sources said that the high-level team, which will include Defence Minister Matori Djalal, security czar Bambang Yudhoyono and intelligence chief Hendropriyono, would draw up an action plan and coordinate intelligence sharing and cooperation with neighbouring countries such as Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines.

They said that the team would present different options to President Megawati Sukarnoputri in what is Jakarta’s first major move to tackle a thorny issue that critics charge could generate backlash from militant Muslims across the sprawling archipelago.

An Indonesian defence official, a three-star army general, told The Straits Times yesterday: “This is still in the preliminary stage of talks. Some of the Asean countries are very concerned about the threat of regional terrorism.

“We have got a clear message that it is important to work together to eradicate this problem.

“That is why we are planning to set up a team that will work closely with their counterparts in other countries.”

Reports here quoted foreign security sources as saying that the idea to set up the task force emanated after Mr Matori’s meeting with Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong in Singapore on Monday.

The sources said Mr Matori came under “significant” pressure from Mr Goh to do something about the problem. A spokesman for the Prime Minister, asked about the meeting with Mr Matori, said terrorism was one of the issues discussed.

“PM Goh and Defence Minister Matori agreed on the importance of dealing firmly with the threat,” he told Reuters yesterday.

“There was no divergence of views on the issue.”

The army general made it clear, however, that there was “no pressure” from any country to get Indonesia to do its bidding, saying that Jakarta was showing its own initiative to shut down regional anti-terror operations.

Intelligence sources here said that Jakarta’s primary concern now was firming up the structure of the task force and to study whether it should operate under government auspices or independently.

They said creating a new team also presented problems for the existing intelligence agencies, which were now tasked with fighting terrorism domestically.

An intelligence officer, a one-star army general, said that setting up a new body to perform intelligence coordination could mean overhauling the structure of the intelligence community in Indonesia.

He said: “There are a lot of questions being asked on what this team can and cannot do, and whether it will step on other people’s turfs.”

The Straits Times understands that President Megawati was receptive to the idea, but her primary concern now was to push through tough terrorism laws that would give her government the legitimate right to clamp down on radical groups.

The proposed laws were now being debated by legislators, and could be passed in the next few months.

A presidential palace source told The Straits Times: “The thinking is that with these laws, there won’t be much room for the terrorists to move.

“We can’t do anything against them now even if others have hard proof against them because we don’t have laws that will support our case to jail them.”

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