Thu, 25 Sep 2003

Mega tells Bush to be cooperative, but fails to speak about Hambali

Fabiola Desy Unidjaja, The Jakarta Post, New York

President Megawati Soekarnoputri held bilateral talks with United States President George W. Bush here on Tuesday to discuss bilateral cooperation in fighting global terrorism.

During the 30-minute meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Megawati said the sharing of information between countries was necessary to ensure the success of the campaign against terrorism.

"President Megawati stressed that there should be more transparent and sincere cooperation between countries in sharing information and other data on terrorist suspects," Indonesian Minister of Foreign Affairs Hassan Wirayuda said here on Wednesday.

Megawati's statement comes as Indonesia seeks direct access to question Hambali, the suspected leader of terror group Jamaah Islamiyah (JI) who is currently in U.S. custody.

"Although they (Megawati and Bush) did not specifically mention the Hambali issue, we underlined the need for them to be honest in sharing such intelligence information," the minister said.

Hambali, who was born in Cianjur regency, West Java, is a key suspect in 39 bombings across Indonesia, including the 2000 Christmas Eve blasts, the 2002 Bali bombings and the 2003 JW Marriott Hotel attack.

The U.S. is reportedly reluctant to allow the Indonesian Police to question Hambali. The Indonesian government has said this reluctance will hamper its efforts to destroy the JI terror network in the country.

Indonesia has repeatedly lobbied for access to Hambali, including during the recent meeting between Indonesian Coordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell in Washington.

"Washington continues to remain aloof in responding to our request, and during the meeting President Bush did not say anything in response to our statement," Hassan said.

On the Palestinian issue, Bush asked Megawati to support efforts to end the Middle East conflict.

Addressing the UN General Assembly on Tuesday, Megawati urged major world powers to tackle the root causes of terrorism by reviewing the way they deal with conflicts, particularly in the Middle East.

While condemning terrorism in any form, she was quoted by AFP as saying it was "difficult to refute" the impression held by many Muslims around the world that current policy toward the Middle East was "not only unjust, but also one-sided" in favor of Israel.

Aside from terrorism, Megawati and Bush also discussed the development of the investigation into the Timika shootings which claimed the lives of two Americans and one Indonesian last year, Hassan said.

"President Bush underlined that the case may hamper the restoration of military-to-military relations between the two countries, as the (U.S.) Congress will continue to focus on the case," he said.

The minister said Indonesia had asked the U.S. government to follow up on an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation into the case.

Megawati also invited Bush to make a stopover in Jakarta during his journey to attend the upcoming Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Thailand.

Several officials in Megawati's office said there were ongoing preparations in Jakarta for a brief visit by Bush to Bali on Oct. 22.

Megawati ends her New York visit on Wednesday and will continue her journey to Tunisia and Libya.

Before flying to Tunis, Megawati will hold bilateral talks with Pakistan's prime minister to discuss terrorism, including that country's recent arrest of two Indonesians suspected of terror links. One of those arrested was Hambali's brother.

"This is purely between Indonesia and Pakistan. Currently we are seeking direct access to provide legal assistance to the (detained) Indonesians," Hassan said.

During her meeting with United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Tuesday, Megawati discussed the Myanmar issue. The UN has urged the immediate release of prodemocracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

"As the president of the ASEAN grouping, Indonesia would like to see the immediate settlement of the Myanmar issue and we discussed this problem during the meeting," Megawati said.

The President said she and Annan had an excellent discussion on several issues, including the reform of the UN.

Hassan said he had yet to receive a report from special envoy Ali Alatas on his visit to Yangon.

"ASEAN ministers will discuss the issue here on Monday," he said, adding that he was also scheduled to meet with the UN special envoy to Myanmar on Wednesday.