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Anti-terror ties focus of Rice's Indonesia visit

Written by: Staff
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JAKARTA, Mar 13 (Reuters) Cooperation in the war against terrorism will be the focus of Condoleezza Rice's first visit to Indonesia as US secretary of state this week, but the two sides will also be looking to strengthen business and political ties.

Despite differences over West Asia policy and sporadic, but large, anti-American demonstrations in Indonesia, Jakarta and Washington have generally good relations, and the southeast Asian nation is considered a close ally in US anti-terrorism efforts.

One sticking point is Jakarta's repeated requests to at least get direct access to Indonesian militant Hambali, in American hands since 2003, and ideally have him sent back to Indonesia.

''In the talks, Indonesia should argue that, without our help, the spectre of terror is difficult to beat and more cooperation is needed,'' said Hariyadi Wirawan, head of the international relations department at the University of Indonesia.

''There is lip service and there is reality. The fact is the teamwork is not balanced. The US prefers taking control of key operations (rather) than letting us handle the matter.'' Indonesia has long sought custody of Hambali -- an Islamic preacher believed to be the mastermind behind bombings on the island of Bali in 2002 which killed 202 people -- to try him and aid in other prosecutions of terrorist suspects.

Rice begins her schedule tomorrow. She will meet Indonesian officials including President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, a former general with US training who won Indonesia's first direct presidential election in 2004 on a strong security platform.

OIL BLOCK DISPUTE The fight against bird flu, which has killed at least 22 people in Indonesia, and improving the Indonesian business climate for foreign investors will figure on the agenda.

She can can also expect media questions about whether Washington is overlooking human rights violations by Jakarta.

Analysts say Rice may press Jakarta to resolve a row between US firm Exxon Mobil Corp and Indonesian state oil firm Pertamina over the lucrative Cepu oil block.

MORE REUTERS YA BS0916

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