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Indonesian President Urges Halt To U.S. Bombing of Afghanistan

By Richard C. Paddock

JAKARTA, Indonesia -- Indonesia President Megawati Sukarnoputri, reflecting growing discontent among Muslims with the U.S.-led bombing of Afghanistan, called Thursday for a cease-fire and a negotiated end to the conflict.

Megawati, whose country has the world’s largest Muslim population, endorsed the U.S. war on terrorism before the bombing began. But she said protracted airstrikes and the killing of Afghan civilians could undermine international support for the campaign.

“Prolonged military action is not only counterproductive but also can weaken the global coalition’s joint effort to combat terrorism,” she said in a speech before Indonesia’s 700-member People’s Consultative Assembly. “We appeal for a humanitarian pause.”

Megawati also called on the United States to offer proof that Osama bin Laden was responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon. The Bush administration contends that bin Laden was behind the hijackings and that he is hiding in Afghanistan under the protection of the Taliban regime.

Megawati said the United States should pursue suspected terrorists by judicial means, not military ones.

“Those found to be involved in terror activities should be held responsible and taken to court,” she said. “It is an obligation of every party to help find and show to the world the convincing evidence of connection of any elements allegedly involved in these irresponsible actions before taking measures to combat terrorism.”

Megawati’s comments appeared to contradict her support for the United States when she met with President Bush in Washington on Sept. 19.

At the time, she called the attacks “the worst atrocity ... in the history of civilization” and nodded before television cameras as Bush discussed the many ways in which nations could contribute to the anti-terror campaign.

After the United States began bombing Afghanistan on Oct. 7, however, Megawati became more mindful of political concerns at home.

Fundamentalist Muslims began staging anti-American protests in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital. Extremist Islamic groups threatened to expel or even kill Americans if the bombing continued.

Some rival politicians sided with the fundamentalists, threatening to create further instability in the turbulent country.

Even Vice President Hamzah Haz joined in, saying that the destruction of the World Trade Center would “cleanse the sins” of the United States.

In October, Megawati began to backtrack on her commitment to Bush, saying that bombing a sovereign state in the guise of attacking terrorists was unacceptable.

In her speech Thursday, Megawati didn’t cite the United States or Afghanistan by name but discussed them in the context of what she called “the tragedy of Sept. 11.”

She criticized those who commit acts of terror to bring about political change and noted the potentially devastating effect the trade center attack could have on the global economy and Indonesia.

“International terrorism committed by whomever and for whatever reason is clearly unacceptable to all,” she said. “It has also resulted in a widespread fear and might lead to the adverse impact on economic activities we are counting on for human prosperity.”