Indonesia split over terror response

2 Muslim groups back anti-terror laws.

Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri’s hand in fighting growing militancy in the country was strengthened yesterday after the two largest Muslim groups here backed her government’s tough new anti-terrorism regulations.

But the support from the Nadhlatul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiyah organisations was tempered with a warning to security forces: The law should not be used carte blanche against all Muslim radicals in Indonesia.

Mr Hasyim Muzadi, chairman of the 40-million-strong NU, said both organisations had called for tough measures after a series of church bombings in 2000.

‘The government and the intelligence agencies need some sort of legal umbrella to fight terrorism,’ he told The Straits Times.

‘Bali speeded up the process. It is time we came up with something that will help this country deal with the problem before it gets worse.’

Mr Ahmad Syafii Maarif, head of the 30-million-strong Muhammadiyah, echoed his view, but was concerned Jakarta could ‘misuse’ the laws.

‘The moderates are behind the new regulations but the President has to give us assurances that she will use these laws carefully,’ he said.

Their comments followed the implementation of two anti-terrorist rulings last Friday giving the authorities sweeping powers to tackle terrorism.

The regulations allow the police to pick up anyone suspected of terrorist activities and to detain them for questioning without any official charge being brought.

Critics say it will be tough to implement, as the intelligence services are weak and there is intense rivalry between the police and the military.

Also, Ms Megawati and rivals vying for the presidency in 2004 continue to tread carefully when dealing with radicals as they are concerned about a potential backlash from the Muslim ground.

But the backing Ms Megawati has now received could strengthen her resolve and that of the security forces to move against suspects such as cleric Abu Bakar Bashir.

NU leader Hasyim said his organisation would support a crackdown against Bashir or others if there was strong evidence against them.

His NU predecessor, former President Abdurrahman Wahid, took a harder line, saying in a radio interview yesterday that the cleric should have been arrested long ago.

Both groups said the government must act decisively against other militant groups.

‘We are not afraid. They are still very small in number,’ said Mr Hasyim.

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