Rice’s visit to show U.S. support for Indonesia's fight against terrorism

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made her first visit to the world's most populous Muslim nation Tuesday amid tight security, eager to show U.S. support for Indonesia's fight against terrorism and its burgeoning democracy.

Her two-day visit underscores Indonesia's strategic importance to Washington, which recently restored military ties with Jakarta to help in its fight against al-Qaida-linked extremists blamed for a series of suicide bombings in recent years.

Rice was scheduled to meet later Tuesday with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, a U.S.-educated former general, to discuss anti-terror cooperation, the widening bird flu outbreak and the Middle East peace process.

But her first stop was an Islamic elementary school, which like many others in Indonesia is now funded by the United States as part of its efforts to counter militant ideologies in the mostly moderate and secular country.

She was greeted by children, many of them girls wearing headscarves, waving Indonesian and U.S. flags.

Hundreds of police and several U.S. Marines guarded the school in the center of the capital Jakarta, and a water cannon stood by to ward off potential protesters.

The United States and Indonesia have traditionally been close, but Washington cut military ties in 1999 after Indonesian troops ravaged East Timor during the territory's break from Jakarta.

But last November, the arms embargo was lifted and full ties restored despite complaints by human rights groups that abuses by the military were continuing in far-flung regions of the sprawling archipelago.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld last week defended the decision, saying that the United States needs support from moderate Muslim nations following the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks and that the break meant they had to rebuild those relationships "almost from scratch."

Rice reiterated the importance of military relations on her way to Jakarta, and cited Indonesia's cooperation in anti-terror investigations as well as democratic progress as the reasons for lifting the six-year ban, reports the AP.

I.L.