As has been anticipated, the war against bin Laden’s followers is involving more and more regions. Indonesia is to become another participant of the anti-terrorism war, in addition to Afghanistan, the Philippines, Yemen, and Georgia.
USA Today reports that the Bush administration has received reliable confirmation of the fact that some al Qaeda militants moved from Afghanistan to Indonesia. This choice is quite logical. The archipelago consisting of several thousands of islands is an ideal shelter for the militants, and what is more important, Indonesia is the world’s largest Islamic state. The Indonesian population consists of over 200 million people, and more than 90% are Muslims.
Radical Islamic trends are very popular among the Muslims in Indonesia. This is easy to be explained. The majority of the population (as well as in Pakistan) is very poor. This was also the reason why crowds of Indonesia’s Muslims looted enterprises and shops of the well-to-do ethnic Chinese after President Suharto’s dethronement in 1998. Conflicts between local Christians and Muslims are becoming more frequent in Indonesia, and, in most cases, Muslims are to blame, although, Christians are not slow to seek revenge.
After the start of the anti-terrorist operation in Afghanistan, thousands of Indonesians went to the street with demands to stop US attacks against the Taliban. The government headed by incumbent president Megawati Sukarnoputri managed to stabilize the situation. However, even now, the Indonesian government does not control the situation completely. The economic crisis that struck at the end of the 1990s, is still aggravating the situation in the country. For this very reason, the Indonesian president was so reserved when the USA suggested sending its troops to the country.
In addition, many Indonesians accuse the USA of the economic crisis. A publication appeared in the Indonesian press in 1997, that said the USA planned to build a military base near the Natuna Islands with its rich oil fields. During Suharto’s presidency, Indonesia allowed no foreign military presence on its territory. The people of Indonesia say that Suharto’s refusal to provide military bases to the USA and purchase America’s F-16 planes and instead purchase of Russia’s Su-30 became the reasons for his resignation. Indonesia is sure that the USA was connected with the resignation of Suharto, as it financed demonstrations and mass protest actions in May of 1998, not to mention the strange rupee (Indonesian money) collapse at the beginning of 1997. Right after Suharto’s resignation, the USA offered cooperation to the Indonesian political leadership. At that, the USA promised safe and free protection from any aggression from the outside. However, the cooperation program failed because of the bloodshed in East Timor, which is striving for independence from Indonesia. The cooperation talks ceased in 1999.
George W. Bush’s administration and the Pentagon now say that it is necessary to introduce US troops in Indonesia. The reason for this seems to be quite clear, but some issues are still vague. First of all, if the Indonesian government allows US soldiers into the country, how large is the US contingent going to be? The population of the archipelago is numerous, and its spirit is rather aggressive, which would require a rather large contingent to be sent to the country. Second, does not the arrival of American soldiers to Indonesia mean that the USA is reviving the idea of building a military base on one of the Natuna Islands or some other place? The people suppose that the USA is more interested in the archipelago’s oil fields than in the liquidation of al Qaeda militants. They are also apprehensive of more violence in Indonesia resulting from the US contingent’s presence in the country.
Answers to these questions will be given soon.
One final thought: the Pentagon is quite open now about America's plans to send troops to Somalia in nearest future.
Oleg Artyukov PRAVDA.Ru
Translated by Maria Gousseva
Read the original in Russian: http://www.pravda.ru/main/2002/03/20/38493.html