Region must unite to combat terrorism

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 October, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 October, 2004, 12:00am

On the second anniversary of the Bali nightclub blasts that claimed 202 lives, business on the holiday island is bouncing back. But the arrangements being made for today's memorial ceremonies tell us just how far Bali and the region still are from a situation that can be called normal.

Australia, which lost 88 citizens - far more than any other country - is warning against travelling to Bali. However, acknowledging that many people will consider being there for the anniversary to be 'essential travel', it is also co-ordinating with Indonesia to provide security at the site of the bombings.

Thirty-two people have been convicted over their involvement in the Bali attack, with three of the leading plotters receiving death sentences. The militant Jemaah Islamiah group to which they are linked has been severely weakened and its spiritual leader awaits trial.

Yet JI is still capable of planning and executing ambitious strikes such as last month's car bomb blast in front of the Australian embassy in Jakarta. As worrying, the links between JI and other regional groups advocating violent insurgencies, including the Philippines' Abu Sayyaf and southern Thailand's separatists, remain murky.

Two years after the blasts, the region's main challenge is no longer overcoming complacency about the threat from JI and similar groups, it is co-ordinating responses and sharing information to cut off sources of funding, recruits and supplies needed for new attacks.

An early sign of the direction this co-operation will take in coming years will come at next month's meeting between newly elected Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Australian Prime Minister John Howard. Both have recently received strong electoral mandates for agendas that include tackling terrorism, but they vary in their approach. Mr Howard, a strong backer of the US presence in Iraq, is expected to continue to look towards Washington, while Dr Susilo has already signalled that he will favour stronger alliances with Asian neighbours on security issues. The differing philosophies do not have to be incompatible, but they do make better communication essential.

Paddy's Bar, the site of the first Bali bomb blast in 2002, has been rebuilt nearby and custom is said to be booming. Hotel occupancies are close to where they were just before the tragedy. Discounting may have been needed to entice the mass market, but the boutique end is doing a brisk trade and trendsetters have been proclaiming Bali's comeback for months.

For those who lost friends and family members, including some in Hong Kong, returning to Bali despite the travel warnings will be seen as an act of defiance against the hatred and senseless violence embodied in the attack. Governments around the region must work together to remove the terror threat for good.