Yudhoyono’s top priority : fighting terrorism

INDONESIAN President-elect Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono pledged yesterday to put the fight against terror at the top of his agenda, adding that tougher laws might be needed to crack down on Islamic extremism in the country.

Speaking to The Straits Times on the eve of his inauguration today as Indonesia’s sixth president since independence, he said Indonesia continued to be plagued by the ‘ghost of terrorism’. Dealing with it would be his ‘No. 1 security priority’.

‘We still face the grave threat of terrorist attacks,’ he said in an interview, his first since being named president. ‘I will take all necessary measures to make sure that Indonesia does not fall victim to another attack.’

His administration would draw up ‘comprehensive measures’, including boosting the operational effectiveness of security agencies, reaching out to both moderate and hardline Islamic groups and reviewing existing legislation in the country.

Central to these efforts, he said, was a need to relook laws that have let extremist groups operate with impunity across the vast archipelago.

The 55-year-old retired general noted: ‘The problem for us so far has been the difficulty in detaining suspected terrorists indefinitely. Tougher laws can help us deter acts of terrorism and it is something I will have to review.’

Indonesia enacted anti-terror laws soon after the 2002 nightclub bombing in Bali that killed 202 people. They allow for the death sentence and give police the power to use intelligence data to detain suspects for six months without trial.

Security agencies in the country, however, say the regulations are not as far-reaching and effective as the subversion laws under the Suharto regime, which used them with great effect to clamp down on fundamentalism.

Observers believe Dr Yudhoyono will tread carefully given the sensitivity of the Muslim ground and concerns from human rights groups.

He made clear yesterday that in his efforts to combat terrorism, he would step up dialogues with Muslim groups to ensure that ‘there is no miscommunication’.

Dr Yudhoyono spoke to The Straits Times over the telephone late last night, after a hectic day putting the final touches to his inauguration speech and Cabinet line-up, which he will unveil today.

He sounded relaxed despite a gruelling week in which he had to interview potential ministers for his Cabinet and fend off criticism of some of his choices.

He said that taking over the country’s top job today was ‘a great day’ for him. ‘I am very happy that I have come this far. But I face major challenges and big tests ahead.’

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