Indonesian officials pledged Wednesday to help former militants and survivors of terror attacks with jobs and scholarships, as the government hosted the final day of a reconciliation meeting in an effort to persuade convicted extremists to reject their violent past.
But the unprecedented face-to-face encounter, which the government hoped would be a significant step toward combating terrorism, drew fewer participants after two victims’ rights groups boycotted the event held over three days in the ballroom of a Jakarta hotel, according to reports.
The meeting brought together 124 reformed militants and 51 victims, officials said, and it ended with the government pledging to help the alleged attackers and their victims.
“At least two programs can contribute in preparing former convicts and victims with proper skills required by the labor market,” Hanif Dakhiri, the minister of manpower, said during the meeting, organized by the country’s counterterrorism agency, which is known by its Indonesian acronym BNPT.
The ministry, Hanif said, would work with state-owned enterprises to recruit terror victims with disabilities.
“Because we have this mutual agreement requiring every company to recruit one percent of total employees from people with disabilities,” Hanif said, adding that the government was also considering setting up startup businesses to help employ terror victims with the required skills.
Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, has imprisoned hundreds of suspected extremists after nightclub bombings killed 202 people and injured hundreds more on Bali island 16 years ago.
But the country has struggled to convince jailed militants to join de-radicalization programs, and authorities have seen a resurgence in home-grown militancy inspired by the extremist group Islamic State (IS), officials said.
The gathering was part of the government’s broad effort to tackle the nation’s militancy problem.
Idrus Marham, the minister of social affairs, expressed hope that the event would not only serve to bring about forgiveness, but provide mutual cooperation.
“We are planning to help create their lives better for the long term,” he said.
He said all family members of victims and former convicts must be included in the government’s programs.
“There’s no excuse that we can’t help fund them in a certain period, let’s say four to five years,” he said.
Muhammad Nasir, minister of research, technology and higher education, said the children of the victims and former convicts would be registered to qualify for university scholarships, after receiving an assessment from the BNPT.
Higher education, Nasir said, would help fight radicalism.
“The way we educate students and protect campus life should be well-integrated and holistic. Every extracurricular activity must be assisted by a lecture and supervised by rector,” Nasir said.
‘Too risky for the victims’
Many participants interviewed by BenarNews described the event as a success, but the head of a survivors’ group who decided not to go criticized holding the meeting, saying survivors needed more support and medical help from authorities.
“The mass reconciliation by BNPT (Indonesia’s anti-terrorism agency) is too risky for the victims, in terms of their mental state and psychology, and for their trauma,” Sucipto Hari Wibowo, co-founder of the Indonesian Survivors Foundation and a survivor of a deadly bombing at the Australian embassy in 2004, told Reuters news agency.
Ni Luh Erniati, the survivor foundation’s adviser, told AFP news service that many victims could not attend the meeting because there were so many former convicts in the room.
“We’re not ready psychologically,” Erniati said. “We have forgiven them but we cannot predict what would happen if our emotions were ignited.”
BNPT Chairman Suhardi Alius praised the event as a “prototype for a peaceful Indonesia.”
But, he acknowledged, many invited victims did not attend.
“The possibility of trauma left by the terror acts and the will to revenge is there. But those who came today have a really big heart,” he said during the meeting.
Ali Fauzi, a former terror convict and a brother of the trio of militants behind the 2002 Bali bombings – Ali Imron, Ali Ghufron and Amrozi – described the event as a success.
“There was this process of seeking forgiveness, affirmation, which I never expected,” he said.
He also reached out to militants still planning to launch terror attacks.
“Let’s improve our intellectual capacity,” he said. “Let’s unite so that Indonesia will be a great nation and respected by the international community.”
Another victim who attended the event was Dwi Welasih, who survived a bombing at the Marriott hotel in Jakarta on Aug. 5, 2003. Twelve people died then and more than 100 were wounded.
She told BenarNews she was full of hope that the government would immediately bring the pledges of help into reality.
“I hope it gets a good response, gets processed and distributed among the victims,” she said.
Chusnul Hotimah, a survivor of the Bali bombings, who suffers from permanent physical disabilities, also expressed hope that the reconciliation meeting would open everyone’s eyes.
“It’s enough. No more victims like me,” she said. “No more terrorism in our country. Let’s preserve our beloved country’s unity.”