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Gates in Indonesia for Military Talks

United States Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has reaffirmed political and military ties with Indonesia during a visit to Jakarta. VOA's Nancy-Amelia Collins is in Jakarta with more.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates met with Indonesian leaders Monday in Jakarta, including Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Gates's visit is intended to show support for one of Washington's important allies in Southeast Asia.

Gates says he repeated to the Indonesian leaders that the United States is ready to assist Indonesia in any way it can, especially with military aid.

"We discussed how the United States could contribute to ongoing efforts to reform the Indonesian military and develop its capabilities, especially in the area of maritime domains, whether by training or providing equipment," he said. "The United States stands ready to assist in whatever way it can."

The United States resumed full military aid to Indonesia in 2005 after cutting off military ties in 1992 following Jakarta's bloody crackdown on pro-independence protestors in East Timor. Washington resumed military aid after the 13-year break citing Indonesia's importance to the U.S. in its fight against terrorism.

A democratic, secular nation, Indonesia has the largest number of Muslims in the world.

The vast majority of Indonesians practice a moderate, tolerant form of Islam. A small, extremist minority has carried out terrorist bombings and wants to see Islamic law, or Sharia, implemented in the country.

Indonesia suffered a series of terrorist attacks between 2000 and 2005 blamed on the al Qaeda linked Jemaah Islamiyah, or J.I. Hundreds of people were killed in the attacks.

Since then, Indonesian authorities have arrested and jailed hundreds of militants, including J.I. leaders. Terrorist experts say the arrests have splintered the organization and seriously affected J.I.'s ability to launch new attacks.

Gates says Indonesia has changed tremendously in the past 10 years since the downfall of former president Suharto and the rise of the democratic reform movement.

"I don't think there's a full appreciation in the United States in particular for just how much Indonesia has changed over the past ten years and how reform has proceeded here, particularly in the military - a military that has withdrawn from political life and has focused on the defense of the nation and also civilian authority over the military," he added.

Later this week, Gates will travel to India and Turkey.