The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Megawati balks at memorial

Bali, Oct. 8: “Osama don’t surf,” reads a prominent banner on a plot where a year ago stood Paddy’s bar, a favourite watering hole on the Legian, Bali’s most happening five-km stretch of road that runs through the Kuta province right up to its famous beach.

It is a painful reminder of one of the worst terrorist strikes in Southeast Asia that has sucked out the revellers from one of its most popular tourist destinations.

Today, Paddy’s has shifted a few 100 metres ahead, relocating itself on the other side of the street. Some loyalists still come in, but others have found more interesting hangouts in the area.

Close by stood the Sari nightclub that, along with Paddy’s, bore the brunt of the three blasts that took place last October, killing around 200 people. The plot is still empty.

A debate is raging on whether it should be turned into a memorial or make way for a new club. Floral tributes pile up outside the sites as preparations are under way to commemorate the first anniversary of the October 12 attack.

But a political controversy is brewing between Indonesia and Australia — the island-continent lost the most tourists in the blasts — over President Megawati Sukarnoputri’s reluctance to attend the memorial. Since Australian Prime Minister John Howard is planning to be present at the occasion, there is increasing pressure on the Indonesian President to be there as well.

Though Jakarta has made its intention clear to seriously cooperate with other countries in fighting terrorism, different sections have raised questions about Megawati’s resolve to deal with the menace.

The sceptics’ views were strengthened last month after a local court acquitted cleric Abu Bakar Bashir of being a terrorist and gave him only a four-year prison sentence for treason. Many feel a compromise was reached between the government and Islamic fundamentalists to let off Bashir lightly though he is accused of leading the Jemaah Islamiah (JI), which has alleged links with Osama bin Laden’s al Qaida and was blamed to be behind the Bali bombings.

Moreover, though the government has repeatedly announced its resolve to fight the terrorists, it has not come out with any clear policy on dealing with the militant Islamic boarding schools — the alleged breeding ground of JI members.

Observers argued that Megawati is trying to keep both the anti-JI crusaders — mosly outsiders — and the vocal domestic Islamic lobby happy. Though she needs to act to assure the world of her intent to take on terrorists, the President is aware that her actions should not precipitate a political crisis.

Research by the International Crisis Group, a Jakarta-based think tank, claims the JI is expanding in Indonesia and its neighbours since it is a much “larger and closely-knit” outfit than was thought previously, but Megawati is keen to shift the world’s focus on other important issues before the country.

The Bali blasts, along with the outbreak of the SARS virus, adversely affected the flow of tourists and investments to Indonesia. Megawati fears that commemorating the tragedy in a big way will only help in bringing back the focus on terrorism which will harm the island as well as the rest of the country.

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