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    Southeast Asia
     Jun 16, 2007
Another success for Detachment 88
By Bill Guerin

JAKARTA - Last weekend's arrest of Abu Dujana, the alleged leader of regional terrorist network Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), by Indonesia's anti-terror squad has deservedly won Jakarta widespread praise. The capture of the Afghan-trained militant may also help to dampen renewed enthusiasm in the US Congress for yet another proposal to cut military aid to Jakarta.

One of the most valuable benefits of the closer relationship between President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and President George W Bush has been the strengthening of the US-trained and

equipped elite police counter-terrorism team, known locally as Detachment 88, first set up during the administration of president Megawati Sukarnoputri in 2003, only months after the first Bali bombings.

Equipped with US weaponry and assault vehicles, including Colt M4 assault rifles, Armalite AR-10 sniper rifles and Remington 870 shotguns, the elite unit has become one of the top anti-terror units, if not the top, in the world, during Yudhoyono's watch.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer this week praised Indonesia for doing "an outstanding job in combating terrorism". Although there have been scores of arrests and convictions since the first Bali bombings in 2002, with more than 220 suspects jailed for terrorist activities since then, the battle against terrorism in Indonesia is far from over.

Police said last year that Dujana had replaced Noordin Mohamed Top, the Malaysian bomb-maker who allegedly supplied suicide bombers and materials used in terrorist attacks as Indonesia's most wanted fugitive. Top's alleged accomplice, Malaysian master bomb-maker Azahari bin Husin, was killed in a November 2005 shootout with Detachment 88 in the terror squad.

If allegations against him are proved to be true, Dujana certainly has a lot of blood on his hands. He is believed to have played a major role in the 2002 and 2005 Bali bombings and the Australian Embassy blast, as well as having a hand in the supply of ammunition and explosives to militants involved in sectarian violence in Poso, Central Sulawesi province. He is also thought to have played a role in the 2003 blast at the JW Marriott Hotel in Jakarta.

Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty has warned that the effort needed to eradicate terrorism in Indonesia is "not a sprint, but a marathon".

Indonesian National Police Chief General Sutanto has called for tougher laws to fight terrorism, and says current legislation impedes investigations. Anti-terrorism chief General Ansyaad Mbai adds that the security forces lack authority to take preemptive action on those suspected of plotting terrorist strikes. On the other hand, radical Muslim groups strongly oppose tougher anti-terror laws, saying they could violate human rights.

The 2003 Anti-terrorism Law allows detention of suspects for seven days for questioning. If no evidence is provided by the police in that period, they must be released.

Proposed revisions to the existing law, which Mbai has described as the world's "softest" law against terrorism, would allow detention for a further six months for questioning and prosecution. Intelligence reports would be acceptable and admissible prima facie evidence for granting a detention order.

This March, Detachment 88 captured seven suspects thought to be members of Dujana's network during raids in Central and East Java. Caches of weapons, explosives and chemicals were seized that could have produced a bomb bigger than those used in Bali in October 2002. Rights campaigners allege that crackdowns by Detachment 88 have spawned rights violations and claim most of the arrests made were illegal.

Yet for Indonesia, with the world's biggest population of Muslims, the strong-arm tactics of neighbors Malaysia and Singapore, where suspects can be held indefinitely without charge or trial, is an unlikely option.

Headlining human rights
While the Bush administration has consistently stuck by Indonesia as a key ally in the "war on terror", improved ties between the two countries have been helped by President Bush's success in sidelining the poor human-rights record of Indonesia's military.

The recent deaths of four villagers shot by marines over a land dispute in a tiny East Java village have angered local rights groups, legislators and influential Muslim figures. The controversial shootings seem to have reached out to Washington too, at a time when the US Congress is considering a proposal by Democrat Nita Lowey, head of the powerful appropriations subcommittee, to cut military aid. If accepted, her proposal would see conditions attached to US$2 million of a total of $8 million in military assistance to Indonesia budgeted for 2008.

The new move, reportedly with little support so far from US senators, is said to be because of Indonesia's failure to reform the military and to prosecute senior officers for the violence and mayhem in East Timor in 1999.

In Indonesia, the draft anti-terrorism law, still stuck in Parliament, provides for the arrest of suspects by the military, which would thus give the armed forces an involvement in policing and criminal investigations, the very powers that were so widely abused in the Suharto era.

While the vast majority of Indonesians may have little sympathy for the killers in their midst, heightened risks to their own rights that stemmed from any sweeping detention powers given to security authorities, could see the worm turn. A likely backlash from Muslim groups and political parties in Indonesia to such a move ahead of the 2009 elections could spell disaster at the polls for Yudhoyono.

Bill Guerin, a Jakarta correspondent for Asia Times Online since 2000, has been in Indonesia for 20 years, mostly in journalism and editorial positions. He has been published by the British Broadcasting Corp on East Timor and specializes in business/economic and political analysis related to Indonesia. He can be reached at softsell@prima.net.id.

(Copyright 2007 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

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