Mega Insists : I am not bowing to US pressure

INDONESIA’S TOUGH ANTI-TERROR STAND

President Megawati Sukarnoputri yesterday brushed aside charges that foreign pressure prompted her tough new anti-terror measures – but had to confront a new warning from a leading Muslim group against making further arrests in the wake of cleric Abu Bakar Bashir’s detention.

The caution from Muhammadiyah chairman Syafii Maarif about moving against other clerics was a fresh obstacle to her government’s efforts to tackle terrorism.

Since taking decisive action, most significantly in the wake of the Oct 12 Bali bombings, Ms Megawati has had to walk a difficult line between assuaging foreign concerns, and preventing a Muslim backlash if she was seen as cracking down hard on radicals.

Stung by criticism that her government was doing little to weed out extremists, Ms Megawati showed new-found resolve and pushed through a series of tough measures – including preventive detention and the death sentence.

And since Monday there has been a further flurry of activity: Police ended a week-long stand-off with Bashir in Solo and took him to Jakarta for questioning later this week; and the first counter-terrorism unit was being put in place.

Her officials have also pressed an anti-terrorism Bill into shape and hope to clear it through Parliament by the year’s end.

The legislation will supersede emergency regulations issued just days after the Bali tragedy which saw 190 people, mainly tourists, killed.

Parliament is backing the new laws but there are concerns that hard-line Muslim-linked parties will attempt to tone them down.

Such action exposes the cracks and deep divisions that remain in Indonesian society, creating a confusing picture of the country’s stand on the anti-terror fight.

Ms Megawati appears to be making all the right moves, which has won her government praise from the international community. But she still has to fend off critics at home.

On a stop-over in Bali yesterday after attending the Apec summit in Mexico, she had strong words for those who accuse her of caving in to international pressure, from the United States in particular.

‘If you were the government, what would you do? Would you do nothing? In light of the bombing tragedy in Bali, you would be condemned,’ she said.

Despite the criticism that she may not have been responding strongly enough to the crisis, her supporters argue that she is one of the few in government who has been galvanised into action.

Her responses sometimes come up against those of her own ministers – including security czar Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, for example, who said Jakarta could not simply respond to international concerns by acting ‘recklessly and arbitrarily’ in its own anti-terror campaign.

Referring to Bashir, he said he was brought to Jakarta ‘to be investigated and not to be punished’.

Analysts said that this has fuelled concerns as to whether the government would go the distance to seek conviction of the 64-year-old cleric for his alleged role in a spate of bombings in 2000.

The scenario being painted here is that he could go into detention briefly, and then be released, as happened to Jaafar Umar Thalib of the militant Laskar Jihad.

Complicating matters was the response of Mr Syafii who had earlier, together with the moderate Nadhlatul Ulama group, backed the crackdown on terrorists.

He told The Straits Times yesterday that he had visited Bashir in Solo last week and was convinced there was an international conspiracy to throw him in jail.

‘There is no hard legal proof that he was behind any of the bombings. Abu Bakar Bashir is a victim of an international conspiracy against Indonesia,’ he said.

‘There is a growing feeling here that our government is trying to please George Bush and the Americans. But we are not going to stand by and allow them to arrest other innocent clerics.’

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