Mon, 23 Sep 2002

Religious, youth leaders warn of anti-U.S. backlash

Fabiola Desy Unidjaja, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Leaders of religious and youth groups are asking the United States to stop spreading what they consider to be black propaganda against Indonesia, warning that such propaganda will only create widespread resentment against Washington.

They also demanded that the U.S. provided clear, solid proof of its recent claims that terrorist cells were operating in Indonesia and that they were threatening the lives of foreigners in the country.

"Should this action continue, there will be resentment against the U.S., even the moderate Muslim groupings will resist them," Hasyim Muzadi, the chairman of the country's largest Muslim organization, the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), was quoted by Antara as saying over the weekend.

Hasyim said a recent report from the CIA, which was published by Time magazine, and included allegations of a plan plot against President Megawati Soekarnoputri, was propaganda aimed at tarnishing the image of the country's Muslim community.

Eight social groupings expressed a similar sentiment on Sunday, saying that the U.S. allegation made Indonesia look like a terrorist haven.

"We reject these allegations, which make the country look like a center of terrorist activities," Hidayat Nur Wahid of the Muslim-based Justice Party (PK) said during a media briefing Sunday.

The press conference was called after a meeting attended by Indonesian National Youth Committee (KNPI) chairman Adhyaksa Dault, Catholic Youth Movement chairman Nico Uskono, Indonesian Nationalist Student's Movement (GMNI) secretary-general Viktus Murin, Mutual Aid Family Conference (MKGR) head Ariza Patria, Indonesian Red and White Front (GMMPI) leader Irvin Roesidi and the chairman of Ansor, the NU's youth-wing, Muchtar Hadyo.

In the wake of the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 tragedy, the U.S. government alerted its citizens twice regarding possible threats against Americans living in Indonesia.

It also decided to close its embassy in Jakarta and consulate general in Surabaya, East Java, because of what it called "specific terrorist threats".

On Friday, the U.S. embassy issued another warning to its citizens in Yogyakarta, a move quickly followed by its allies, the United Kingdom and Canada.

"We have heard reports that there is a credible threat to the security of Westerners in the Yogyakarta and Solo areas. British nationals are advised to keep a low profile and avoid public areas as much as possible," the British Embassy stated on its website.

The warning, however, failed to affect tourism activity in Yogyakarta, which is one of the country's prime tourist centers.

Jakarta has been steeping up its efforts to curb alleged terrorist cells in the country, including the recent arrest of Omar al-Faruq and a German citizen of Arab-descent.

However, security officers have so far found no strong indications that terrorist cells are a threat to foreigners living in Indonesia.

Representing the Muslim groups, lawyer Mahendradatta gave assurances on Sunday that there would be no threats against American citizens and that Muslim groups in the country had no links to any terrorist groups.

"I guarantee there will be no American citizens or other foreigners harmed in Indonesia by my clients," Mahendradatta told The Jakarta Post on Sunday.

He was speaking on behalf of Muslim clerics such as Abu Bakar Ba'asyir, Habib Rizieq, and Jaffar Umar Thalib, who are considered as anti-American leaders.

"My clients are against the U.S. government's foreign policy, not U.S. citizens," he remarked.

Separately, Vice President Hamzah Haz said that if the U.S. government could provide legal proof against these Muslim groups, he would be the first person to put them in jail.

"I will order the arrest of these Muslim clerics if there is any proof of the allegations," he remarked during a visit to Central Java on Sunday.