PM speaks up for Indonesia’s efforts to combat terrorism

Like a good neighbour, Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong yesterday spoke up for Indonesia, calling on other countries not to tar all of its people as being terrorists, as the majority of Muslims there are moderate and peace-loving.

‘Indonesia is suffering from bad press after the Bali bomb blast and the perceived slowness of Indonesia’s reaction to the terrorist threat.

‘We need to tell investors and the rest of the world that Indonesia is a very complex country. The government is doing as much as it can in dealing with the problem. We need to give the government more time,’ he said at a press conference to wrap up his two-day visit.

Noting that Singapore was a close neighbour and friend of Indonesia, he added: ‘As an Indonesian put it, a close neighbour is better than a distant relative.

‘So I came here to show support to President Megawati and her government in the efforts they are making to deal with the terrorist threat.’

It was a ‘good sign’ that Singapore Technologies Telemedia had made a successful bid for shares in telecommunications operator PT Indosat as this showed that one major Singapore company ‘has full confidence in Indonesia’s potential’.

His assessment at the end of a two-day visit here comes after meetings with several Islamic leaders, Cabinet ministers, politicians and intellectuals whom, he said, gave him a ‘fascinating insight’ into just how complex a problem Indonesia faced in handling the terrorist issue.

‘I was keen to get a better understanding of the different issues in Indonesia. I am going home better educated, more appraised of the situation in the country,’ he said.

He had taken the time to hold closed-door talks with other political players in Indonesia, including Vice-President Hamzah Haz, Parliamentary Speaker Akbar Tandjung and People’s Consultative Assembly chairman Amien Rais.

Mr Goh also spent over an hour meeting leaders from two of the largest Muslim groups in the country, Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, that together comprise 70 million Indonesians.

During the meeting over tea, the Muslim leaders expressed their concerns over a range of issues, from fears of Muslims in

Indonesia being labelled as terrorists to concerns about a backlash at home if the United States attacked Iraq. Most of them shared Mr Goh’s concerns about the serious threat terrorism posed not just to Indonesia but also the region.

The Oct 12 Bali bombing appeared to be a turning point in raising their awareness of the problem, Mr Goh noted.

Many were also very concerned that if the US did not act within the United Nations framework and resolution, there would be a strong domestic backlash, he added.

But if the US acted in accordance with the UN resolution, Indonesia and Singapore would ‘have to support what the UN decides to do’, he said.

He was also asked whether he supported pre-emptive strikes against countries that harboured terrorists, a controversial Australian proposal that has upset Indonesia and Malaysia.

Mr Goh said that Singapore’s position was to make sure it gives no country a chance to consider that option by taking steps to weed out the terrorists first.

Mr Goh returned home last night.

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