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US Security Official Visits Indonesia - 2004-03-10

The U.S. Secretary for Homeland Security, Tom Ridge, is visiting Indonesia as part of a regional tour designed to improve international cooperation in the war on terrorism. Secretary Ridge is the latest senior member of the Bush administration to come to Southeast Asia to promote support for the war on terror. He follows in the footsteps of President Bush himself last October, and Attorney General John Ashcroft earlier this year.

The standing of the United States has taken a severe battering in the region in the wake of the Iraq war, and the increased security for visitors arriving in the United States, which many interpret as having an anti-Muslim bias.

Nowhere is that more true than in Indonesia, with the world's largest Muslim population.

In a meeting Wednesday morning with the Indonesian co-ordinating minister for Security, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Secretary Ridge told his hosts that although the U.S. government had a duty to secure its borders, it does not want to discourage visitors.

"We have for 200 and some years been an open and welcoming and diverse country," says Mr. Ridge. "That's who we have been, that's who we are, and that's clearly who we want to be in the future and we want visitors and students and travelers from Indonesia to feel most welcome."

Indonesia is on the front line in the fight against terrorism. Indonesian-born militants have been responsible for attacks that have killed more than 230 people within the country and have shown that they want to export their ideology and methods.

While the overwhelming majority of Indonesia's 220 million people follow a moderate interpretation of Islam, and have been outraged by terrorist attacks both at home and elsewhere, there is also a deep distrust of Washington's motives in Iraq and the Middle East.

Secretary Ridge's visit to the region is an illustration of how important the administration now believes it is to enlist the cooperation of the governments and populace of Southeast Asia in the war on terrorism.