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Rice praises 'success story' Indonesia JAKARTA - US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice praised Indonesia's record on religious tolerance and democracy as hundreds of Islamic protesters yelling "Condeleeza go to hell!" denounced America's involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. Rice, on her first visit to the world's most populous Muslim nation, lunched with her counterpart Hassan Wirayuda, and afterwards praised Indonesia as "an inspiration to the entire world" for its religious tolerance and democratic progress.

Wirayuda described their meeting as "very productive" and said they discussed human rights, growing military ties and cooperation in fighting terrorism. "We are cooperating, we are sharing information, we will continue these types of cooperation and discussions," Rice told the same press conference. But she declined to say whether the US will hand over Hambali, alleged mastermind of the 2002 Bali bombings which killed 202 people, to Indonesian authorities.

Indonesia has jailed scores of Islamic militants for terrorist offences after open trials. It has repeatedly requested access to Hambali, an Indonesian held in US custody at an undisclosed location since his arrest in Thailand in 2003, saying he could provide crucial information. Wirayuda later told journalists that Jakarta had lost hope that the US would provide access to Hambali as promised.

"It was not necessarily opportune to raise the issue because so far what the US has promised has not become a reality," he said. Rice said they also discussed the election victory of Palestinian militant group Hamas in January, and US hopes that Iran would "accept the will of the international community to develop a civilian nuclear programme within the context of the no-proliferation treaty."

She hailed Indonesia's efforts to press Burma's military junta to "join the international community and respect human rights." "The US can't turn a blind eye to those who are still under oppression," Rice said. Asked about strong anti-American sentiment among some sections of Indonesian society, Rice said US policies "may not always popular but I hope there is an understanding that we have a deep and abiding respect for the Indonesian people, and for their various faiths."

Less than a kilometre away, an estimated 600 protestors from several Muslim groups held a rowdy demonstration outside the US embassy criticising the US as undemocratic for its involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq. Rice also met Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the nation's second elected president, following the departure of dictator Suharto in 1998.

Apart from counter-terrorism and military ties, they also discussed regional efforts to tackle bird flu, which has killed at least 22 Indonesians so far. Rice has said she would also seek Jakarta's help in breaking the political impasse in the Middle East after Hamas's election. Talking to reporters shortly before her arrival, she praised Indonesia's efforts at clamping down on Islamic militants, who have staged a string of deadly bomb attacks in Jakarta and on the resort island of Bali.

Rice said Indonesia was "making a real effort to rid the region -- not just themselves but in cooperation in the region -- of the terrorist threat that has plagued Southeast Asia." "Indonesia is increasingly a real success story of a place," she said. Indonesia's emergence in 1998 from 32 years of autocratic rule had promoted warmer ties between the two countries, allowing the lifting of a military embargo and increasing security cooperation, Rice said.

The two countries last November resumed full military ties that were largely severed in 1991 when Indonesian forces launched a bloody crackdown on pro-independence protesters in East Timor. Relations notably improved after the United States launched a massive effort to help survivors of the 2004 tsunami, which killed 168,000 Indonesians.

The top US diplomat heads to Australia Wednesday for talks with her Australian and Japanese counterparts. The focus there is expected to be Iran, Iraq and Northeast Asian security.



Posted in Politics @ 15 March 2006 08:34 CET by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink






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