Thu, 28 Aug 2003

Mega embarks on another overseas trip

Fabiola Desy Unidjaja, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

With her attention focused on terrorism and other "non- traditional" security issues, President Megawati Soekarnoputri is leaving for Malaysia on Thursday for a four-day overseas trip that will also bring her to Thailand.

With Indonesia still reeling from a series of terrorist attacks that have scared off foreign investors, Megawati is scheduled to fly to Kuching, Malaysia, on Thursday morning and continue on to Bangkok on Friday afternoon.

She is also expected to promote Jakarta's proposal for the establishment of an Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN) Security Community among her counterparts in both countries.

"Due to various developments in the security field, we need to address these problems with our neighbors," Minister for Foreign Affairs Hassan Wirayuda said on Tuesday.

He further said that the planned deportation of 232 Acehnese from Malaysia and Indonesian militant Abu Jibril would also be discussed by Megawati in her talks with Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad.

"During the state visit to Thailand, the President will also discuss counterterrorism efforts and the recent arrest of prime terror suspect Hambali in Thailand," Hassan said.

Hambali, currently in United States' custody, is said to be the main operative of the Jamaah Islamiyah (JI) terrorist network in the Southeast Asia region.

Indonesia has also been asking Thai authorities to hunt down Zakariah Zaman, one of the leaders of the separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM), who is allegedly hiding out in that country.

The Southeast Asia region has been under the spotlight for the past few years with a string of terrorist attacks occurring in the Philippines and Indonesia.

Indonesia, as the chair of ASEAN, had underlined the importance of forging stronger cooperation among member countries to deal with so-called non-traditional security threats.

The ASEAN Security Community proposal was launched to create a framework for better cooperation among member countries in dealing with these new threats.

Coordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono will also be in the presidential entourage, along with Hassan.

This is the third time Susilo has been included on Megawati's overseas trips, with the first time being a visit to Singapore as part of the ASEAN tour in August 2001, and the second to the U.S. in September 2001.

On economic cooperation, Megawati is slated to witness the signing of Memorandums of Understanding with the Thai government on trade and investment promotion respectively.

Minister of Trade and Industry Rini Soewandi, Minister for Maritime Affairs Rokhmin Dahuri and Investment Coordinating Board (BKPM) director Theo Toemion will also be present in Bangkok for the signing ceremony.

On Saturday, Megawati and her almost 40-strong entourage are slated to visit the tourist resort of Chiang Mai at the personal invitation of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The President will fly back to Jakarta on Sunday, after a one- night break in Chiang Mai.