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Indonesian Provincial Governor Arrested for Corruption

The new government of Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has fired the first salvo in its advertised battle against the country's endemic corruption. Prosecutors have arrested a provincial governor who has long been suspected of graft.

The arrest and imprisonment of Abdullah Puteh is the first high profile move against a high profile suspected official since President Yudhoyono won office with the help of a promise to tackle corruption.

Mr. Puteh was the governor of the restive northern province of Aceh, the scene of a long-running and violent separatist insurgency. He is being held on suspicion of ordering his administration to buy a helicopter at an inflated price and then pocketing the difference. Mr. Puteh says he is innocent and will fight the charges.

Paul Rowland is the head of the Washington-based National Democratic Institute's office in Indonesia.

"It's really a symbol that the government is willing to support the Corruption Eradication Commission in its work, and it's a step that the previous administration couldn't quite bring itself to take," he said. " So I think it's certainly an indicator that this administration is going to be serious about it."

For more than three decades, until 1998, Indonesia was run by the now disgraced President Suharto, who turned the government into a vast patronage machine, and few expect that turning around such an entrenched problem will be easy.

The corruption watch agency Transparency International regularly ranks Indonesia as one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Analysts say endemic graft is holding back the economy and fueling social discontent, and ultimately bears some of the blame for Indonesia's problems with terrorism.

The battle against corruption is being led by President Yudhoyono's respected attorney general, Abdurrahman Saleh, but for convictions he must rely on the Indonesia's court system, widely held to be one of the most corrupt bodies in the country.

The detention of Mr. Puteh sends a signal that the government is serious about combating corruption, but no one expects the battle to be easy, or short.