Jakarta welcomes anti-terror help

Offer to interview Jemaah Islamiah detainees in Singapore will be accepted, but no arrests without hard evidence’

Indonesia said yesterday that it was open to Singapore’s offer to share intelligence on two key terrorist suspects but again made clear that it would only act on hard evidence.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Wahid Supriadi said that the Republic’s move was ‘well received’ by the Indonesian government and seen as ‘a step to avoid further damage to bilateral ties’ following Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s recent comments.

‘We have always been open to any form of intelligence exchange,’ he told The Sunday Times. ‘It is in the interest of the two countries to channel information and differences through diplomatic channels rather than making any public pronouncements.

‘It is OK for the man in the street to criticise us. But if it is the Senior Minister talking about it openly, then the implications are big.’

Mr Wahid’s comments follow Singapore’s offer on Friday to facilitate direct investigations by Indonesian security agencies to confirm that links exist between two Indonesian suspects and members of the Jemaah Islamiah (JI) terrorist group in the Republic.

A Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman said that the government was also prepared to give Jakarta access to detained JI members.

He said that Singapore’s security agencies had on several occasions shared all available intelligence with their Indonesian counterparts.

This covered the links between detained JI members and clerics Abu Bakar Bashir, who had a leadership role in the Singapore terrorist network, and Hambali, another suspected extremist leader.

Responding to such comments, Mr Wahid said that the information provided by Singapore so far was not sufficient to warrant action.

A two-star army general, a close aide of security czar Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, said that Indonesia had to be ‘sticky’ on this issue because of the political ramifications if security authorities here made a mistake.

‘We need to be armed with solid proof if we arrest a Muslim militant with followers. If we make a mistake, there will be repercussions on the ground. Singapore has to understand our problem.’

Police spokesman Saleh Saaf said that two generals and a colonel had already been sent to Singapore, to gather information to help them in their investigations here.

He said that Indonesia would also accept the offer to interview the 13 JI members arrested in Singapore.

Given the backdrop of growing international pressure against Indonesia, the state intelligence agency, police and other security agencies have been forced to step up efforts against militants.

The Sunday Times understands that Abu Bakar is now under constant surveillance in Solo, Central Java, and at least one senior JI member was hauled up for questioning last week, to ascertain Hambali’s whereabouts in Indonesia.

Hambali, suspected to be the author of a draft document that outlined plans to bomb US embassies in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and the Philippines, is believed to remain in touch with JI operatives here.

Jakarta’s latest moves stem mainly from the reaction to SM Lee’s remarks that there were extremist leaders in Indonesia. Sources say that President Megawati Sukarnoputri, seemingly detached from the whole matter, has now ordered General Susilo and her security apparatus to give ‘full attention’ to the terrorist issue.

After a week of public vitriol against Mr Lee’s remarks that terrorist ring leaders were in the country, the mood appeared to be conciliatory here.

Some Indonesian legislators felt that the incident be best forgotten.

Said Mr Amris Hassan who sits on the parliamentary commission for foreign affairs: ‘We should just forget about it. But we hope that it does not happen again.’

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