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Indonesia expresses concern, urges US to limit strikes

Jakarta Post - October 9, 2001

Jakarta – Expressing deep concern at the United States' decision to launch a military strike against Afghanistan, Indonesia urged Washington on Monday to keep its operation limited to minimize civilian casualties.

And in anticipation of an anti-American backlash from some groups in Indonesia, the government has appealed to the people to show restraint in expressing sympathy or outrage.

"The government of Indonesia has urged that the [military] operation, which is already underway, remains very limited, in terms of force, target and time, to reduce or minimize casualties among innocent people," said an official statement.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Hassan Wirayuda read out the six-point statement issued after a limited Cabinet meeting to discuss Indonesia's response to Sunday's US attacks in Afghanistan.

The response was formulated following a series of meetings starting from Sunday night. President Megawati Soekarnoputri summoned her top ministers on Monday morning to give guidelines. The meeting to draw up the official response was led by Coordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

With the number of civilian casualties from Sunday's attacks still unknown, the government's response was circumspect. The government "is deeply concerned that the military action had to take place in Afghanistan following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington," it said.

The government took note of Washington's announcement that the operation was aimed at terrorist training camps and military installations in Afghanistan.

Indonesia also took note of the US statement that the military operation was not a hostile action against the Afghan people or the Muslim world, and of its promise to send humanitarian aid to people in Afghanistan.

The government said it had decided to send food and medicine to Afghanistan and encouraged Indonesians to do the same as an expression of sympathy and to help ease the suffering of the people in Afghanistan.

On the domestic front, the government cautioned the public against breaking the law or disturbing peace and order when reacting to the attacks or expressing sympathy for Afghanistan.

Several Muslim groups have said any attack on Afghanistan by the United States would be construed as an attack on Islam. They have threatened to retaliate against US interests in Indonesia.

The government urged the United Nations Security Council, in line with its authority and responsibility in maintaining international peace and security, to take collective action in restoring the situation and handling humanitarian problems.

Vice President Hamzah Haz refrained from publicly commenting on the attacks, saying that he toed the official government line. Hamzah, the chairman of the Islamic United Development Party (PPP), nevertheless came under strong pressure from several Muslim groups to take a harder line, including from the chairman of the Indonesian Muslim Brotherhood Movement, Ahmad Soemargono, who met him in his office.

House Speaker Akbar Tandjung took a harder line, condemning the US attacks and prodding the Megawati administration to go stronger in criticizing Washington. "I hope the Indonesian government will show its stance and warn the US that there could be more innocent casualties if the attacks continue," Akbar told journalists. Akbar appealed to the public to react in a proportional way and not to scare foreigners away.

The National Awakening Party (PKB), a moderate Muslim political party, regretted the attacks and urged Washington to stop the action in the name of justice. Deputy secretary-general Yahya C. Staquf said PKB called on the public to exercise restraint at least for one week, pending a satisfactory explanation from Washington for its decision to attack Afghanistan.