Bush Praises Indonesian Gov't for Confronting 'Evil' of Terrorism

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:14 PM EDT

Pacific Rim Bureau (CNSNews.com) - President Bush has paid a visit to Indonesia, stopping for several hours on the island of Bali for talks on security with a sometimes reluctant partner in the war on terror.

Thousands of troops and police, along with aircraft and warships, provided security for Bush's four-hour visit to Bali, which a year ago was the scene of a deadly attack by an Islamist terrorist group, Jemaah Islamiah (JI).

The president held talks with President Megawati Sukarnoputri, her security, economics and social affairs ministers, and the chiefs of the military and police force, the official Antara news agency reported.

Bush was accompanied by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who is a former American ambassador to Jakarta, and the current U.S. ambassador, Ralph Boyce.

Apart from his meeting with Megawati, Bush also held discussions with mainstream Islamic leaders who represent between them some 70 million Muslims, as well as a Hindu and a Roman Catholic leader.

Megawati said at a press conference after the talks that "both sides were in agreement about the importance of religious tolerance as one of the major pillars of democracy in Indonesia."

In his remarks, Bush said terrorists who say Islam is their inspiration "defile one of the world's great faiths."

"Murder has no place in any religious tradition and must find no home in Indonesia."

Overseeing a secular government in the world's largest Islamic country, Megawati was criticized for not taking Islamic militancy seriously enough before the Bali bombing, which killed 202 people, most of them foreign tourists.

After the attack, the government did take action, arresting scores of suspects, more than 20 of whom have been convicted. Three of the leaders of the plot have been sentenced to death and a fourth to life imprisonment.

But terrorism experts and government officials alike say the threat is still high. Experts believe some 2,000 members of JI are in the country, and three leading figures remain at large.

Some of the men convicted for their roles in the Bali bombing have been linked to Muslim boarding schools, or pesantrens, in Indonesia. JI's jailed spiritual leader was the founder of one such school.

A recent report by the International Crisis Group think tank said that a small number of the more than 14,000 pesantrens in Indonesia are "committed to jihadist principles."

The U.S. has now announced a grant of $157 million over six years to help Indonesia to improve education, focusing on promoting religious tolerance.

Bush paid tribute to the victims of the Bali bombing, and praised Megawati for her government's clampdown on terrorism in the aftermath.

"President Megawati has confronted this evil directly," he said. "Under her leadership Indonesia is hunting and finding dangerous killers. America appreciates Indonesia's strong cooperation in the war on terror."

Jakarta' support for the war on terrorism has not been unqualified, however.

After initially giving cautious backing to the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, she later publicly expressed concern, saying "blood cannot be cleansed with blood."

Megawati was also critical of the war on Iraq.

In a speech at the United Nations in New York last month, she spoke about the war in the context of the world's failure to understand the "root causes" of terrorism. The Iraq war had "created far many more problems than those it intended to solve," she charged.

Megawati acknowledged Wednesday that Jakarta and Washington had disagreements at times.

"Despite the fact that we do not always share common perspective ... we both continue to hold mutual understanding that it is to the interest of the two countries to maintain consultation and cooperation in the pursuit of global peace," she told reporters.

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow