Indonesian VP visits detained militant

Mr Hamzah Haz said he saw nothing wrong with his trip to the national police headquarters for the 90-minute meeting with the leader of the Laskar Jihad group who has been blamed for inciting violence against Christians in Maluku province.

‘We Muslims are brothers. There’s nothing wrong with visiting someone in trouble and sympathising,’ he said. He also promised that, despite his visit, the government of President Megawati Sukarnoputri would not intervene in the matter.

Jaafar has been detained since Saturday in connection with alleged calls for a war against Christians in Ambon, and threats to the lives of Ms Megawati and her family.

His arrest was hailed as a step that could improve the government’s standing among those who have been pressing Indonesia to get tougher on terrorism and domestic extremist threats.

Observers said Mr Hamzah’s visit was prompted partly by his rivalry with popular Muslim cleric Zainuddin M.Z, who heads the breakaway Reformasi faction of Mr Hamzah’s United Development Party (PPP) – and who also met Jaafar earlier in the day.

The Vice-President was also clearly intent on burnishing his Islamic credentials – even if it meant being seen to be concerned about the well-being of militants like Jaafar.

The goal of such moves remains the backing which his party seeks from Muslims in the 2004 election.

Well-placed sources also believe his decision was fuelled by anger that the government had refused to appoint PPP member Samudera Sukardi as the new boss of Indonesia’s flagship carrier Garuda.

‘He wanted to show his frustration with Ibu Mega by visiting Jaafar,’ said a PPP legislator.

But whatever his reasons, analysts said that the visit appeared to be ill-timed because it sent mixed and confusing signals to neighbours about Jakarta’s resolve to crack down on extremist elements.

Mr Ken Conboy, of Jakarta-based consultancy Control Risks Group, said: ‘The elite here continue to be deeply divided in confronting this issue. Very few want to expend their political capital to be seen as being hard on extremism.’

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