Jakarta groups call for action on terror

Leaders of two major Muslim groups say government should act to restore image of country, and accept any help offered.

Indonesia must act against any suspected terrorist groups if it is to restore its image internationally and win back badly needed foreign investment.

That was the opinion given by mainstream Muslim leaders here yesterday.

Even as hardliners continued to respond to and criticise comments about terrorist cells operating in Indonesia, these other Muslim leaders took a different tack, stepping up calls for President Megawati Sukarnoputri and her government to take action.

Mr Hasyim Muzadi, chairman of the 35-million-strong Nadhlatul Ulama, Indonesia’s largest Muslim organisation, said that doing nothing would only harm the country in the long run.

‘The government must take steps to prove whether there is a terrorist network or not in Indonesia,’ he said.

‘For a start, we have to look at the several bombings that have taken place in this country. Were they a result of foreign-linked terrorist groups or just local groups with a domestic agenda?’

While he believed there were unlikely to be any Al-Qaeda-linked groups here, Jakarta should accept whatever help was being offered by countries like Singapore.

This would show that the government was serious in combating terrorism, he said. If there was no proof, then the President had to take the lead in the matter and let the world know.

Mr Hasyim said a strong message from Ms Megawati would also be important in assuaging foreign-investor concerns.’Right now, the image of Indonesia and Islam in the country is taking a beating because nothing is being done to counter any misperceptions,’ he said.

‘This will affect the economy because investors will be afraid of coming in. The government has to put the economy first and not be caught up in politics or narrow nationalism.’

The 30-million-strong Muhammadiyah group had similar views.

Mr Imam Addaruqutni, head of its international-relations department, said Islam in Indonesia would continue to be chastised if nothing was done.

‘The fact of the matter is that Muslims in this country are largely moderate,’ he said.

The comments from the two largest Muslim groups came in the wake of a demonstration at the Singapore Embassy yesterday, against remarks by Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew that terrorist leaders were at large in the country.

Commenting on the protests, Religious Affairs Ministry secretary-general Faisal Ismail called for self-restraint and said Muslims should not become too emotional.

Indeed, some observers believe Indonesians were too emotional in their reaction to Mr Lee’s comments.

Former Defence Minister Juwono Sudarsono said it was the domestic media and officials who made his statement out to be provocative.

‘If you read Lee Kuan Yew’s comments in context, there really was no need to react in the way some Indonesian officials have done,’ he told The Jakarta Post in an interview published yesterday.

‘Lee was concerned about reported Al-Qaeda cell operatives in South-east Asia being loose around’ in Indonesia and endangering the security of Singapore. ‘In my reading, Lee was not being provocative. Rather, Indonesian officials and media made it out to be provocative … ‘

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