Jakarta action against militants impeded by V-P

Hamzah Haz is courting the militants to shore up his power base. He even invited them to dinner at his home recently.

Indonesian Vice-President Hamzah Haz is courting several militant leaders, impeding government efforts to crack down on suspected terrorists in the country.

The fact that he invited several extremists to his house for dinner recently has raised eyebrows once again, just a week after he visited radical leader Jafaar Umar Thalib in detention.

Observers said that attempts at cultivating the militants were motivated principally by political considerations at the expense of growing pressure to weed out these elements.

For a start, he wanted to shore up his power base not just among moderates but radical Muslims as well, and more importantly, to send a signal to President Megawati Sukarnoputri that he had strong backing in the face of her attempts to warm up to the generals.

Islamic expert Riza Sihbudi from the Indonesian Institute of Social Sciences noted: ‘The Vice-President does not have the backing of the military. He knows that. So, he is trying to align himself with forces that could tip the power balance in his favour against Megawati.’

Sources in his Muslim-based United Development Party (PPP) disclosed that he was flirting openly with the radicals because of concern that rival Zainuddin M.Z., from the breakaway PPP-Reformasi, was working the ground for the 2004 election.

Driven by this political rivalry, he invited several radical leaders to his house for dinner in late March in an attempt to forge closer ties.

Among those invited were Jafaar, who heads the paramilitary Laskar Jihad group, Abu Bakar Bashir, accused by Malaysia and Singapore of being linked to Al-Qaeda, and Al-Habib Muhammad Rizieq bin Hussein Syihab, who threatened last year to expel Americans from Indonesia.

In an interview with the Washington Post recently, Mr Hamzah disclosed that he held the meeting to seek confirmation whether they were indeed terrorists. He said the dinner left him ‘certain that there are no terrorists in Indonesia’.

Senior military sources here said that Mr Hamzah, together with another senior Cabinet minister, had been putting the brakes on moves against these radical leaders by warning Ms Megawati periodically that there would be a backlash if she used the military to crack down on them.

His advice? Use the ‘soft-approach’ of persuasion and court them – which now seemed to be also serving his political agenda.

PPP legislator Achmad Muqoam said: ‘Pak Hamzah sees these so-called radicals as his Muslim brothers. So, he does not support the use of force or any arbitrary measures against them.’

But while the President might have been somewhat influenced earlier by his calls to go easy on the militants, she appeared to be much more wary now given his hidden political aims.

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