The hunt continued this week for Indonesia's most-wanted terrorist, as Jakarta prepared for talks with Malaysia and the Philippines over another ISIS-linked threat in Southeast Asia. Meanwhile, President Jokowi weighed in on the drama surrounding the construction of a giant sea wall to prevent Jakarta from sinking.
The hunt for Santoso, leader of the ISIS-affiliated East Indonesia Mujahidin (MIT), is reported to be closing in on a group of around 25 of his followers in the jungles of Central Sulawesi. Last Friday, an alleged member of the group surrendered to police, saying he could no longer stand conditions in the jungle with supply routes cut off by security forces. On Monday, another alleged member, believed to be a Chinese Uighur fighter, was shot dead when he pulled a knife on police. Since the start of the year, four suspected MIT members have been arrested and another 10 have been killed in shootouts.
Efforts to capture Santoso have intensified this year under Operation Tinombala, a joint police-military operation involving more than 3000 personnel. The drive began after Santoso's group claimed responsibility for attacks in downtown Jakarta in January, in which eight people were killed. A push is also underway to make amendments to the Anti-Terrorism Law, affording even greater powers to counter-terrorism authorities. However, human rights groups have criticised the proposed amendments, fearing a loss of hard-won rights and freedoms. In the face of international condemnation of impending executions of drug convicts, and a recent national symposium on the horrors of the 1965 anti-communist purges, it's surprising that more questions aren't being asked about the ongoing shootings without trial for suspected terrorists.
Indonesia is not the only country in Southeast Asia dealing with the threat of terror groups linked to ISIS.
The killing of a Canadian national this week at the hands of the ISIS-affiliated Abu Sayyaf Group in the Philippines has prompted urgent action across the region. At the initiative of President Jokowi, Malaysia and the Philippines will send their foreign ministers and military leaders to Jakarta for trilateral talks next week on measures for tightening maritime security. As many as 18 Indonesians and Malaysians are reported to have been abducted by Abu Sayyaf in the past month. Next week's talks are hoped to produce a lasting commitment to maritime cooperation between the three countries, beyond the abduction crisis.
In local politics, Jakarta's current maritime focus is ensuring that the capital does not sink into the Java Sea. President Jokowi this week weighed in on drama surrounding the construction of the National Capital Integrated Coastal Development project, a giant sea wall intended to stop land subsidence that is causing Jakarta to sink faster than any other city in the world. Jokowi, in a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, urged progress on the $40-billion project, which has recently been suspended for six months over bribery allegations involving a private developer and the Jakarta city council.
The public-private project aims to protect Jakarta's coastline with a barrier of around 4000 hectares of reclaimed land, made up of 17 islands arranged in the shape of the Garuda, the bird of Hindu mythology represented in Indonesia's coat of arms. The so-called 'Great Garuda' will feature along its wingspan multiple residential, shopping and entertainment complexes, similar to Singapore's Sentosa Island resort. The local government has also requested 15% of the area for low-cost housing — which hasn't been well received by developers.
Battles between the public and private interests of the development are now underway. The Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) is handling a case of suspected bribery over reclamation and zoning regulations involving developer PT Agung Podomoro and a city council member from the Gerindra party. Governor Ahok is moving ahead ruthlessly on eviction of urban poor communities inhabiting areas along the waterways and coastline. The North Jakarta mayor this week resigned over accusations from Ahok that he hadn't done enough to prevent flooding. Ministers, legislators, activists and even Vice President Jusuf Kalla have reportedly spoken out against the project.
Amid these concerns, Jokowi's statement this week shows a strong commitment to following through on what could be one of the biggest development projects of his presidency. What remains to be seen is his commitment to representing public interests the project as and when it moves ahead.