Tue, 06 Aug 2002

'U.S. wants RI to unify democracy and Islam'

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The United States places importance on Indonesia's efforts to combine democracy and Islam, Minister of Foreign Affairs Hassan Wirayuda said here on Monday.

Hassan said Indonesia was the world's third largest democracy and the largest Muslim-populated country with over 80 percent of its 215 million people following the faith.

"If we are able to combine democracy and Islam together, this will be of importance to the United States," the minister told Jakarta-based foreign correspondents at a luncheon, as quoted by the Agence France Presse.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who visited Jakarta last Friday, praised Indonesia as a Muslim nation which allows "diversity to flower", as well as its move towards democracy.

Earlier, Powell secured promises from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member countries, including Indonesia, for continued cooperation in the war on terrorism.

Indonesia is to receive more than US$50 million from the United States for new counter-insurgency programs.

Powell said Washington was prepared to expand military cooperation with Indonesia, nearly three years after most military ties were broken off over the 1999 violence in the former Indonesia's province, East Timor.

U.S. officials believe Indonesia could play a crucial role in ensuring that militant Islam does not spread. Washington has concerns that Muslim extremists with alleged links to U.S.--most wanted Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network may be living in Indonesia.

Hassan defended the Indonesian government's failure so far to arrest or detain radical Indonesian Muslim leaders on terrorism charges.

"Our police have questioned them and we did not find, so far, any hard evidence to arrest them," he said.

Police have questioned Abu Bakar Ba'asyir, a Muslim scholar who heads the Indonesian Mujahidin Council, but did not detain him. The scholar has been accused by Singapore of leading a terror network active in the neighboring country, a charge he denies.

Ja'far Umar Thalib, leader of the militant Laskar Jihad, is to face trial for allegedly inciting violence in the Maluku islands.

Hassan said Indonesia had been combating terrorism for some time, as shown by several agreements with fellow ASEAN member countries and others.