- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 25, 2002

No Indonesia al Qaeda

Hard-line Muslim groups in Indonesia are not linked to the al Qaeda terrorist network despite news reports to the contrary, according to the U.S. ambassador there.

"There is a misperception that the U.S. has labeled them as international terrorist organizations," Ambassador Ralph Boyce told representatives of major Muslim groups yesterday.

He said al Qaeda terrorists have been active in Indonesia, but Washington has no evidence that groups like Laskar Jihad and the Indonesian Mujahidin Council are connected to them.

Mr. Boyce defended his decision to close U.S. diplomatic facilities for several days earlier this month, adding that "just because you cannot see [terrorists] does not mean they are not there."

The ambassador said that most Muslims in Indonesia are "moderate, tolerant and open," and that the "power of moderate Islam" is a key to winning the war on terrorism.

Sri Lanka terrorism

The top U.S. counterterrorism expert, Francis X. Taylor, plans to visit Sri Lanka this weekend to meet officials engaged in peace talks with Tamil Tiger rebels, who made suicide bombings a trademark in nearly 20 years of guerrilla war.

"My emphasis will be on the integration of intelligence, law enforcement and legal and diplomatic efforts against terrorism," Mr. Taylor, the State Department's coordinator for counterterrorism, said in a statement yesterday.

Sri Lankan forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam opened the first round of talks in Thailand last week.

Mr. Taylor's visit follows a trip to Sri Lanka last month by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe met President Bush at the White House in July.

Bangladesh port trouble

The U.S. ambassador to Bangladesh is warning the impoverished South Asian nation that it risks losing American investment unless a U.S. firm is allowed to build a new container port.

"Future investments in Bangladesh by American companies might be threatened if the plan for the port is not approved by the government," Ambassador Mary Ann Peters said yesterday, referring to plans for the southeastern port city of Chittagong.

The Stevedoring Services of America has been negotiating with the Bangladeshi government to build a $550 million port, but labor unions representing dock workers at the existing hundred-year-old port claim the project would threaten thousands of jobs. They have threaten massive strikes if the government approves the deal.

"Bangladesh will lose hundreds of millions of dollars in investments from U.S. companies, some of which are keen to put their money in Bangladesh," Mrs. Peters told the Agence France-Presse news service. "If the U.S. companies find port problems here, they will think twice before investing in Bangladesh."

The ambassador has also urged Bangladesh to revitalize the existing port, which she has called one of the most expensive and slowest such facilities in the world. She said the old port is costing Bangladesh $1 billion a year in lost trade.

She dismissed complaints from labor unions, which accused her of interfering in local affairs by defending the U.S. contractor.

"Democracies are not undermined by the open and robust expressions of views by diplomats and others, so I will stand by my earlier comments regarding the development of the [port] terminal in Chittagong," she said.

"My statements reflect the U.S. view that decisions in these areas are in the best interest of Bangladesh and will further strengthen ties between our two countries."

Hong Kong port security

The United States and Hong Kong this week signed an agreement to increase the inspection of shipping containers to prevent terrorism in one of the world's busiest ports.

Raymond Wong Hung-chiu, commissioner of Hong Kong's customs and excise department, said Hong Kong's "overall port efficiency will not be compromised" by the agreement that provides for closer cooperation between the two customs agencies. Customs Commissioner Robert C. Bonner signed the agreement on behalf of the United States.

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