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Yudhoyono confirms death of Bali bombing mastermind

Indonesian president also describes plans to crack down on people-smuggling

CANBERRA – Indonesia’s president on Wednesday confirmed the killing by police of a suspected mastermind of the Bali bombings and, in a speech to Australia’s parliament, vowed to hunt down Islamist extremists.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said Dulmatin, an al-Qaeda-trained bomb specialist with a US$10 million bounty on his head from Washington, was killed by police in a major blow to Indonesia’s Islamic militants.

“We can confirm that one of those that were killed was Mr Dulmatin, one of the top Southeast Asian terrorists that we have been looking for,” Yudhoyono said through an interpreter in Canberra.

Yudhoyono also promised to keep up the pressure on militants such as those in Dulmatin’s Jemaah Islamiyah group, blamed for the 2002 Bali blasts that killed 202 people including 88 Australians.

“Just yesterday our police authorities raided an important terrorist cell in a suburb of Jakarta and put several terrorist operatives out of commission,” he told parliament.

“In any case, the Indonesian authorities will continue to hunt them down and do all we can to prevent them from harming our people.”

Dulmatin was a leader of the Southeast Asian militant group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI). The news comes as US President Barack Obama prepares to visit Indonesia and Australia.

Dulmatin, one of Indonesia’s most wanted fugitives, was accused of helping plan and carry out the Bali blasts. Police had refused to confirm he was one of three militants killed on Tuesday after he was falsely reported dead in 2008.

His death follows Indonesia’s success last September in killing Malaysian terror mastermind Noordin Mohammad Top in a raid which left his Central Java hideout a burnt-out shell.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd praised the operation, which took place on the same day Yudhoyono was given Australia’s highest civilian honour for overseeing the initial Bali investigation as Indonesia’s security minister.

“This has been a very professional operation by the Indonesian security forces, and it comes on top of other successful operations in recent times,” Rudd said.

“The breakthroughs which Indonesia has made in undermining various terrorist networks have been significant.”

The announcement capped a triumphant visit for Yudhoyono, who became one of only a handful of foreign leaders to have addressed parliament, and pledged to crack down on people-smuggling in a wide-ranging new accord with Australia.

As the 21st boatload of asylum seekers this year was stopped off Australia’s north, he said Indonesia planned new laws that would jail people-smugglers for up to five years.

“We have finally worked out a bilateral mechanism for cooperation to deal with this issue so that future people-smuggling cases can be handled in a predictable and coordinative way,” he said.

Australia has long complained about the rickety boats that arrive on its shores via Indonesia, carrying asylum-seekers from conflict zones and economic trouble-spots.

Rudd said links between the countries had been upgraded to a “new level” during the visit, dramatically reshaping relations that were previously characterised by a series of flare-ups.

He said a move to hold annual meetings between their leaders, foreign and defence ministers put Australia’s giant, mainly Muslim neighbour in line with the United States.

Yudhoyono also said the two sides had progressed from a “love-hate” relationship to a bold strategic partnership, as they bid to improve exchanges and work on a possible free trade deal.

However, he warned they needed to overcome “age-old stereotypes” that paint Indonesia as a military dictatorship and Australians as pro-white.

Both sides preferred to sidestep recent skirmishes over asylum-seekers, death sentences for three Australian drug-smugglers and Australia’s war-crimes probe into Indonesian troops’ 1975 killing of five journalists in East Timor.

Shirley Shackleton, widow of one of the so-called “Balibo Five” said she was stunned when Yudhoyono sent an envoy to receive a letter from her during a lunch at Parliament House, and to offer his personal sympathies.

“The emissary said he wants you to know he’s very sympathetic to you, and he’s very interested to read what you have to say in your letter,” Shackleton told the AAP newswire of her correspondence, in which she urged the president to “put this atrocity to rest”. AFP

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