Sun, 27 Apr 2003

U.S. diplomat families return to Indonesia

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

As security conditions in the country continue to improve, the United States allowed on Friday family members of U.S. diplomats to return to Indonesia, after they had been ordered to leave last year following the Bali bombings.

The State Department warned, however, that the country was still not safe for Americans and that its citizens should defer nonessential travel here.

"We are expecting as early as next week to start welcoming family members of U.S. diplomats working here," said embassy spokesperson Greta M. Morris.

Around 200 family members and nearly 300 nonessential government staff were pulled out of the world's most populous Muslim country after terrorist attacks on the famed resort island last October killed 202 people, mostly foreigners.

Nonessential staff were also told this month they could return.

Morris said the U.S. government took notice of efforts made by the Indonesian government in ensuring security for its embassy and other interests.

"The U.S. government considered that the Indonesian government has been taking serious measures on protecting U.S. facilities and its citizens, and that the Indonesian government has taken a firm action against terrorism," Morris said.

Indonesia, previously criticized for dragging its heels in the war on terror, has won widespread praise for its investigation into the Bali attacks. So far, 29 men have been arrested in connection with the case.

In another sign of solid progress, police this week said they had captured a man they identified as the new spiritual leader of the Southeast Asian terror network, Jamaah Islamiyah (JI), and had arrested 17 more JI members.

The U.S. State Department also downgraded its travel advisory for Indonesia this week, saying American citizens should defer all nonessential travel to Indonesia, instead of all travel.

Friday's announcement said there was still a risk of strikes by JI and other groups on Americans or American interests in the country.

Secretary of State Colin Powell said on Thursday that Indonesia had finally awakened to the threat of terrorism within its borders.

The United States imposed fierce pressure on the government of President Megawati Soekarnoputri to crack down on terror suspects after launching its war on terrorism after the September 11 attacks, and redoubled its efforts after the Bali bombing.