- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 5, 2003

HONOLULU — Officials in Washington and at U.S. Pacific Command in Hawaii expressed growing concern about security threats in Indonesia months before yesterday’s bombing of the Marriott Hotel in downtown Jakarta.

One U.S. officer with access to comprehensive intelligence recently lamented what he called “a chaotic situation” in Indonesia.

Much of the concern focused on terrorist organizations, notably Jemaah Islamiyah, which is blamed for the Bali bombings in October that killed about 200 people.

Officials feared the group would strike again, despite the arrests of 130 suspected members in the past 10 months.

The militant group linked to al Qaeda emerged as a leading suspect in yesterday’s attack that killed at least 14 persons and wounded 148, including two Americans.

Jemaah Islamiyah advocates creation of an Islamic state in Indonesia and Muslim areas in the Philippines and other nearby nations.

Rep. Jim Leach, Iowa Republican and chairman of the International Relations Asia and the Pacific subcommittee, said recently that extremist networks in Indonesia are larger, more capable and more active than was previously believed.

Adm. Thomas Fargo, the Honolulu-based commander of U.S. forces in Asia, agreed, saying, “Indonesia is a key battleground in the struggle against terrorism and radicalism.”

Adding to the chaos are:

• A weak performance by Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri, whose administration has been inept and plagued by scandal.

• Separatist movements in Aceh, at the western end of the archipelago, and in Papua, at the eastern end. Elsewhere, religious friction and ethnic violence are tearing at the national fabric.

• Soaring piracy. The International Maritime Bureau in London reported a worldwide increase of 37 percent in the number of pirate attacks on the high seas during the first half of 2003. One quarter of those attacks, 64, took place near Indonesia.

• Backsliding on reforms by the Indonesian army, perhaps the most cohesive force in the country. It is accused of abusing human rights, running illegal mine and lumber businesses, and prostitution.

U.S. military officers say they are hindered by congressional restrictions from working with Indonesian officers to promote change.

John Haseman, a retired colonel and former defense attache in Jakarta, has said the U.S. International Military Education and Training program flourished in Indonesia from 1989 to 1992 but was halted by Congress.

“We are now dealing with armed forces who have no window on the West,” Mr. Haseman said.

Indonesian officers “may never agree with all of our teachings,” he said, “but at the very least it provided contacts and some insight for the Indonesian military on Western thinking.”

“People we know are easier to work with than those we don’t know,” he said.

A critic of Indonesia, Sen. Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, has opposed the military educational program because “there appears to be no interest in meaningful reform within the Indonesian military.”

“Commitment at the highest levels is what it takes to turn this relationship around,” he said.

Besides looking to Indonesia for help in the war on terror, U.S. Pacific Command hoped to see the emergence of a democracy as part of a defensive bulwark against China, should Beijing seek to dominate Asia and drive the United States from the western Pacific.

That bulwark would be strengthened in South Asia by India, which long has been suspicious of China and fought several border skirmishes with that country, and in Northeast Asia by Japan, which has begun to shed its pacifist cocoon and is worried about a long-term threat from China.

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