Politics affects war on terror’

PM Goh says election causes complications for Jakarta.

Indonesia’s response to the threat of terrorism here is being affected by the fact that the political elite has an eye on the 2004 election – and how the masses may react to any action that is taken, Singapore’s Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong has been quoted as saying.

‘Indonesia is facing a transition that is complex … We can understand why politicians are sensitive to the problem,’ the Kompas daily yesterday reported him assaying in the course of a wide-ranging interview.

His comments were made in an interview with Asean journalists on Oct 11 – just one day before the Bali bombings. There was no indication of why they have only just been published.

Although he may be the first regional leader to say politicians are mindful of how their decisions will go down with the local population, the view has already been widely expressed by Indonesia watchers.

There had been criticism of Indonesia for being slow to move against those seen as having links to terrorism. Analysts say that much of the previous inaction was connected to politicians’ concerns about a backlash from the Muslim-majority population.

In the interview, Mr Goh noted that the situation and procedures here had changed since the time of President Suharto. The authorities would also need hard evidence to pursue terrorists.

The Singapore Government, he said, could help by providing proof gathered from those arrested in the Republic. He also made clear that information about terrorist activities was not from Singapore alone. Malaysia had also identified Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir as the spiritual leader of the militant Jemaah Islamiah group, and referred to Al-Qaeda operative Omar Al-Faruq.

Both men were mentioned again recently in a Time magazine report.

Terrorism was a region-wide threat, not confined to any one country, he said, adding that detaining a number of people was not the end of the matter.

He said Asean countries could do a number of things to deal with the problem. But if one member-state did not take action, then the others had to voice their concern.

‘But these expressions of concern must not be done openly, as it could be seen as applying pressure. This is not the Asean way. We must do it calmly,’ he said.

Over time, the country that had not been doing anything would feel compelled to act, not just in its own interests but in those of the region as well.

Asked if concerns about terrorism had dampened investor confidence, he said Asean had to present an image of a compact ‘economic community’ that was making progress.

‘We must not deny that there is a terrorist problem because foreign investors know all about it already.

‘But we must give them confidence that we are on top of the terrorist threat,’ he said.

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