Date: 11-29-2002

HONOLULU -- Indonesia's ambassador to the United States said his country's lack of an anti-terrorism law emboldened terrorists to bomb a Bali nightclub last month, but new government regulations have now empowered law enforcers there to act decisively against perpetrators.

"Bali gave us very painful and costly lessons," said Ambassador Soemadi Djoko Moerdjono Brotodiningrat in a talk Wednesday at the East-West Center. "The majority of Indonesians want no legal instrument to be abused, but they are convinced of the need" for anti-terrorism laws.

The bombing killed more than 190 people, mainly tourists from Australia. Several arrests have been made.

An anti-subversion law was abolished in 1998 after the downfall of President Soeharto, who held power in Indonesia for 32 years. After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States, "there was tremendous pressure for Indonesia to have an anti-terrorist law."

A new anti-terrorism bill is stalled in parliamentary debate. In the meantime, a government regulation is filling the need until a law is passed, the ambassador said He said that several arrests in the Bali bombing have lessened "conspiracy theories" among the general public that U.S. intelligence or a disgruntled Indonesian military was behind the bombing.

Soemadi said surveilling the more than 13,000 Indonesian islands for evidence of terrorist camps was extremely difficult, but the government hopes normalized military relations with the United States, more use of satellite technology, and better police training will help.

He said the Bali bombing had the biggest impact on Indonesia's tourism, one of its largest foreign currency earners after oil and gas. Tourist numbers have dropped 16.5 percent this year to 4.3 million tourists from 5.15 million last year. His government wants other countries to lower their travel cautions.

On other topics, he said Western perceptions of pesantren, or Islamic religious schools in Indonesia, as nests for young terrorists were "simplistic." He said these schools were very diverse, and many moderate and modern ones were "competing with extremists in trying to influence" young people. He said foreign aid to help develop the moderate schools was important to "uplift minds instead of destroy them."
This is an East-West Wire, copyright East-West Center