Tuesday, February 12, 2002

Defending the Saudis

Robert Jordan, the U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, is tired of reading misleading U.S. news reports about a lack of Saudi cooperation in the war on terrorism.

Describing those reports as “untrue,” Mr. Jordan accused some American reporters for seeking “someone to blame” by writing articles criticial of Saudi Arabia’s response since the September 11 attacks on the United States.

Saudi Arabia last week publicly acknowledged that 15 Saudi citizens were among the 19 hijackers that crashed planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Mr. Jordan, speaking at a luncheon hosted by Middle East Insight magazine, also dismissed reports that the Saudis want the United States to withdraw troops from their territory, according to our correspondent Ben Barber.

“No Saudi official has said that,” Mr. Jordan noted.

The ambassador also said that the terrorists failed in their objective to spark a backlash from the United States.

“The terrorists expected and wanted a blind reaction that would drive Muslims into the streets” and threaten moderate governments, Mr. Jordan said.

“We cannot let terrorism divide us from our friends and drive us into ill-considered actions,” he added.

Unease in Indonesia

Two hours before a visit by the U.S. ambassador, Indonesian rebels yesterday threw a grenade into a crowd at a market in the capital of the tense Aceh province, raising concerns again about violence and terrorism in the world’s largest Muslim nation.

The attack, blamed on the separatist Free Aceh Movement, injured 12 persons but did not disrupt the start of the two-day visit by Ambassador Ralph Boyce, the Agence France-Presse news service reported.

Mr. Boyce met with Deputy Gov. Azwar Abubakar, acting in the absence of Gov. Abdullah Puteh, who is on pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia.

Mr. Boyce told Mr. Abubakar that the United States is “concerned about the continuing violence in Aceh that has claimed so many lives,” said a U.S. Embassy spokesman, traveling with the ambassador.

Meanwhile Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda emphasized that Indonesia is prepared to arrest any citizen accused of terrorism.

“If there’s indications and other evidence, there’s no doubt that the government will take action,” he told reporters in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta.

The United States has been critical of Indonesia’s failure to arrest suspects linked to terrorists. Frank Lavin, the U.S. ambassador in neighboring Singapore, last week urged Indonesia to follow the examples of Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines, where terrorist suspects have been arrested recently.

More Indonesian strife

A Christian-Muslim conflict in another part of Indonesia can only be solved by guaranteeing the safety of both communities, restoring law and order and resettling refugees, according to the International Crisis Group (ICG).

The organization offered no quick solutions to the violence in the province of Molucca, where at least 5,000 people have been killed and about 700,000 left homeless from the 11-year civil war.

The group also urged authorities to investigate whether foreign terrorists have links to the fundamentalist Islamic militia, Laskar Jihad, which sent several thousand fighters to Molucca from their bases in Java.

ICG urged Indonesia to insert elite government forces to keep peace in the province as a first step toward a permanent end to the fighting.

“Overcome divisions between Muslim and Christian [police] officers before giving the police heavy responsibilities,” ICG said.

It also urged flexibility when deciding whether to prosecute “people who believe they acted justifiably to defend their community.”

“Emphasize forward-looking measures rather than determination of the ‘truth’ about the conflict’s beginnings,” ICG advised.

Trying to assign blame on one side or the other “would be counterproductive at this stage,” it added.

ICG praised Indonesia for inviting representatives of each community to peace talks as a “welcomed first step.”

However, ICG analyst Harold Crouch said, “No one expects an early solution to the problems in Molucca.”

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