The new US Ambassador to Indonesia, Ralph Boyce, said Thursday international terrorism poses a strong threat in Southeast Asia.
Ambassador Boyce said the recent arrests in Malaysia and Singapore of people suspected of planning terrorist attacks means that authorities in Indonesia should also be on the alert for such activity. "When you see countries like Singapore and Malaysia, which are a little more tightly wrapped up I think it's fair to say than Indonesia, arresting groups who have been operating and potentially planning some pretty nasty things, it highlights I think the fact that there is a strong threat to the region from international terror," he said.
The ambassador, who took up his post in Jakarta in October, is in Washington this week for consultations.
At a gathering sponsored by the Asia Society and the United States-Indonesia Society, Ambassador Boyce pointed to violent clashes among Muslims and Christians in Indonesia's Sulawesi province. And he compared the potential terrorist threat in Indonesia with the situation in the United States before the September 11 attacks.
"When you look at Indonesia and you contrast it with the United States on September 10, you see a couple of countries that are three-plus time zones wide, 200-plus million people, pretty easy to come and go, in the case of Indonesia, I think some fairly lax central government grip in some of the outerlying areas," he said, "you see the problems in central Sulawesi of a few weeks back, and I think at least in terms of the potential for some international actors to go to Indonesia or to think about operating from Indonesia has to be taken seriously. ... We didn't think anything approaching the scale of what was being plotted against us was going on in our own country before September 11. "
Some Indonesia scholars in the United States have said radical Muslims in Indonesia generally have their own local agendas, whether it is autonomy from Jakarta or disputes with local ethnic or religious groups. But they agree with the ambassador that the situation is ripe for exploitation by outside groups that might want to take advantage of the instability.
The government in Jakarta has denied allegations that Islamic militants have received training at camps in Indonesia. But concerns linger that some instructors at Indonesian religious schools have been trained at fundamentalist institutions in Pakistan and Egypt. Ambassador Boyce dismissed those concerns about Indonesia's religious schools and said he does not believe radical Islam is on the rise there. "I also think that any speculation about the madrassa school system or the pesantren schools somehow being sort of along the lines of what we know to be the case in Pakistan, where they're breeding grounds for training people and teaching radical Islamic tenets, is also untrue," je saod.
The Ambassador said Indonesia and the United States are in complete accord on the need to eradicate international terrorism. But he added the two countries have a wide disagreement over how the United States has conducted its military campaign in Afghanistan.