Governments in the region are meeting this week to discuss the ongoing fight against terrorist organizations.
Indonesia and Australia are holding a regional counter-terrorism meeting in Jakarta this week. The two-day meeting is hosted by Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda and Australian Foreign Minister Mr Alexander Downer. The other participants of the meeting are Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. The two key issues to be discussed at the meeting are how to prevent radicalization and how to prevent mass casualty incidents.
Before the regional meeting, Australia's Foreign Minister Alexander Downer addressed Parliament with the prognosis that terrorism is losing its popularity inIndonesia as South-east Asia's counterterrorism efforts show results. “Governments like the Indonesian government...Malaysia, Singapore and also more recently thePhilippines have been making real progress in their counterterrorist activities,” he told Parliament. “And very importantly... there has been a decline in public support for terrorism and extremism in Indonesia. There is still day by day the risk of terrorist attacks, there's no question of that, but nevertheless real progress is being made.”
However, casting a more critical eye on the meeting, the Bangkok Post published an editorial questioning the effectiveness of the meeting. It highlighted the lack of a “strong agenda, which stresses specific advances in international cooperation at today’s conference, is troubling.” Indeed, even the domestic track record of the Southeast Asian governments in tackling terrorist groups in their respective countries is patchy.
Acknowledging that “we have a long way to go before achieving a final victory”, Indonesian Foreign Minister Dr Hassan Wirajuda said at the opening of the two-regional meeting that “even as regional governments work closer together to fight terrorism, militant groups in South-east Asia are staying a step ahead of the authorities by employing new strategies and tactics”.
At the conference, the head of the counter-terrorism desk at the Coordinating Ministry for Political, Legal and Security Affairs, General Ansyad Mbai pointed out that Indonesian prisons are a weak link in Indonesia’s fight against terrorism. He said, “The prisoners should be treated specially; they should be split up from one another… we must not allow them to become united, stronger and more radical while they are in jail.”
Notwithstanding the necessity for prison reform in Indonesia, the Indonesian government still has to improve its provision of security outside of the prisons. In East Indonesia, a home-made bomb exploded in the city of Ambon on Saturday morning, injuring at least twelve people. The police have questioned five witnesses but suspects have yet to be named.
Elsewhere, in Central Sulawesi, there have been a series of bombs, assassinations and terror attacks. Jemaah Islamiyah is believed to have set up a base in the city ofPoso since 2000. South Sulawesi Police chief Inspector General Aryanto Budihardjo promised that the police would renew its commitment to prevent acts of terrorism and to capture domestic and foreign militants who used Sulawesi as an entry, exit or transit point. This came after he met with police officials from the island’s five provinces in Makassar, South Sulawesi some weeks ago (3 February). Coordination within the police is needed particularly in the light of the warnings of the International Crisis Group (ICG) that the JI would shift the focus of its attacks on the police, which is perceived to be an anti-Islamic force.
In Thailand, the government arranged for a meeting amid unconfirmed reports that Bangkok could face more bomb blasts. Army Chief Sonthi Boonyaratglin Defense Minister Boonrawd Somtas warned on 27 February that, “The situation will become volatile sometime between March and April.”
In the Philippines, President Arroyo recently signed into law the Human Security Act of 2007. This Act comprises a number of anti-terrorism measures such as allowing suspects to be detained without charge for three days and enable the seizure of assets of suspected terrorism-linked associations and individuals.
With the Act, the government hopes to prevent the repeat of an embarrassing and costly blunder. Previously in 2002, some of the members of Islamic extremist groups were arrested on the charge of possessing unlicensed weapons and had to be allowed bail. Subsequently, they jumped bail and were named as main suspects in the bomb attack on a ferry off Manila that killed 116 people in 2004.
However, the actual efficacy of the Act is uncertain as it is a watered down version from what the Arroyo administration had wanted. Opposition Senator Panfilo Lacson acknowledged that the Act had so many safeguards that it was likely to be ineffective. He pointed out that the Opposition was against the passage of the Bill as they did not trust the Arroyo administration to uphold the rule of law. Lacson’s confession is a bleak reminder that the fight against terrorism is often hampered by domestic politics. (6 March 2007).
Terrorists managing to stay a step ahead (The Straits Times, 6 March 2007)
Editorial: Less Cooperation Three Years On (Bangkok Post, 5 March 2007)
Asia Winning Some Battles in Terror War, But Indonesian Prisons Seen as Weak (Associated Press, 5 March 2007)
Anti-Terror Bill Might be Rejected (Manila Bulletin, 5 March 2007)
Why Sulawesi Still Simmers (The Straits Times, 5 March 2007)
No Terror Incidents Expected (The Nation, 4 March 2007)
Sulawesi Police Vow Cooperation in Fight Against Terrorism (Jakarta Post, 3 March 2007)
Indonesia and Australia to Host Regional Anti-Terror Meet (Straits Times, 3 March 2007)
Anti-Terror Law Plugs Some Gaps for Manila (Straits Times, 3 March 2007)
Police Question Five People Over Ambon Port Bomb Blast (Antara, 3 March 2007)
A Jemaah Islamiyah Surge Bodes Ill for Poso (New Straits Times, 1 March 2007)
Security Chiefs to Meet to Counter Terrorism (The Nation, 28 February 2007)