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Indonesian ties with US in nation' interest: Ministers

Jakarta Post - October 11, 2001

Despite mounting public pressure from small, vocal groups for the government to sever ties with the United States, the government said on Wednesday that it would maintain good relations with the US and its allies.

Acting Foreign Affairs Minister Yusril Ihza Mahendra told journalists in Jakarta that the government would watch closely the US-led military attacks on Afghanistan but would by no means consider the US an enemy. "Indonesia will push the United Nations and the Organization of Islamic Conference to intervene and resolve the Afghan crisis," he said.

Coordinating Minister for Political, Social and Security Affairs Soesilo Bambang Yudhoyono echoed a similar view, urging the public at large not to be emotional. "I call on all Indonesian citizens not to be carried away by our emotions in deciding a very fundamental issue, including our relations with the international community," Soesilo told the press after speaking before military officers on Wednesday.

The two ministers were reacting to mounting public pressures, from militant Muslim groups, for Indonesia to cut ties with the US in protest of its air strikes against the Taliban which the US accuses of harboring suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden, the main suspect in the September 11 attacks which killed over 6,000 civilians from over 60 countries.

Immediately after the US and Britain bombed Taliban military targets and terrorist training camps on Sunday evening, the Indonesian Ulemas Council (MUI) urged the administration of President Megawati Soekarnoputri to cut relations with the US The call has received limited support from students and militant groups which have staged daily protests against the United States since Monday and issued a series of ultimatums.

Soesilo emphasized that the decision to keep good relations with the United States was taken after carefully considered deliberations among high-ranking government officials. "We must take into account the fundamental interests of the nation and our people," Soesilo emphasized.

Hasyim Muzadi, chairman of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the country's largest Muslim organization, also opposed calls for Indonesia to cut ties with the US, arguing that such a move would only hurt Indonesia and its standing in the international community. "We should not damage ourselves for the sake of solidarity ... solidarity with the Muslims in Afghanistan must not sacrifice our national interests," he said.

Hasyim said Indonesia is not ready to cut ties with the US as many national interests are linked to America. "Moral support to Afghanistan is okay, but if Indonesia has to cut ties with the US, it is too premature as we have many interests that are related to America," he said.

Former president Abdurrahman Wahid also expressed his abhorrence over the calls to cut ties with the US, but he criticized the government's stance which, according to him, did not air any criticism against the US "I think it [cutting ties] is too strong. It is enough for us to condemn unfair actions against Afghanistan, however it does seem that the government is afraid of the US," Abdurrahman was quoted by Antara as saying in Surabaya, East Java.

Abdurrahman said the US must be criticized if it commits unfair actions, violates international laws, or takes action that is not democratic. "If we are just silent, they may think that we agree with their actions," said Abdurrahman, who is also chairman of the patron council of the National Awakening Party (PKB).

Rizal Mallarangeng, an analyst associated with the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), said on Tuesday that cutting ties with the US is unrealistic for Indonesia as it is not in the national interest. "Cutting ties with the US is ridiculous and it is consistent with our national interest," he said.

Meanwhile, legislators from Commission I, which is in charge of foreign affairs, on Wednesday disagreed with the rising demands from groups in society to sever ties with the United States. Commission Chairman Ibrahim Ambong said the commission would monitor the foreign policy to be made by the government. "We have a plan in the works. We will not recommend the government to sever diplomatic ties. We are optimistic that there will be a solution to the Afghan crisis," he said. Deputy commission chairman Isaac Latuconsina concurred and said the demand to cut ties with the US was too extreme and not a representative view of the majority of Indonesians.