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Powell, Indonesian Security Minister Discuss Terrorism - 2003-09-19

Secretary of State Colin Powell met Friday with Indonesia's coordinating minister for political and security affairs, Suslio Bambang Yudhoyono. The talks covered the war on terrorism, including the case of the Indonesian-born terrorist figure Hambali, captured last month in Thailand.

The State Department still was officially closed because of Hurricane Isabel, which had passed through Washington only hours before. But Mr. Powell and other senior officials spent more than a half hour with the influential Indonesian minister in a mid-morning meeting that focused on joint efforts to curb terrorism.

Mr. Yudhoyono did not speak to waiting reporters as he departed. But U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian Affairs James Kelly, who took part in the meeting, said they discussed the Hambali case and what he said were "energetic" efforts by Indonesia to bring to justice those behind terrorist attacks in that country, including last October's Bali bombings that killed more than 200 people.

"They're doing really quite well, in general," said Mr. Kelly. "The pursuit of the Bali bombers has been very energetic and quite successful. I think there's a clear recognition that this is a serious problem. So, Indonesia is doing its best to respond to it, but it's a big, diverse country."

U.S. intelligence officials are understood to be continuing their interrogation of Hambali, the alleged operations chief of the al-Qaida affiliated group Jemaah Islamiya, who was captured in Thailand August 11 in a joint operation by U.S. agents and Thai anti-terrorism forces.

Indonesian authorities have been seeking access to Hambali, an Indonesian whose real name is Riduan Isamuddin. But Mr. Kelly said Minister Yudhoyono expressed understanding in the meeting with Mr. Powell for the need for Hambali to remain under U.S. questioning for the time being.

"We need to use this information, first of all, to make sure that no planned acts of terror occur, but also to handle law enforcement and old matters that would involve Indonesia and other countries in Southeast Asia," he said. "So that process is going ahead in an orderly way, and I think the Indonesian government understands that."

Thai officials have said Hambali has told interrogators of plans for new terror attacks, including one aimed at the APEC summit of Pacific-rim countries in Bangkok next month.

Mr. Kelly said the meeting at the State Department also covered the situation in Indonesia's Aceh province, where government forces have mounted an offensive against separatist rebels, and Indonesian elections planned for next year, which will include the country's first direct election of a president.

He said Mr. Yudhoyono called the voting a very important step in a democratic process "that is going to go ahead."