Victims group shuns Indonesia attacks reconciliation event

Attack survivor Denny Mahieu, second left, pose for a photo with ex-militants Toni Togar, left, Ramses, second right, and Ramli, right during a meeting between former militants and victims, in Jakarta, Indonesia, Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018. One of the main Indonesian groups for survivors of terror attacks has refused to participate in what it says is a flawed government-organized "reconciliation" meeting between former Islamic militants and victims. (AP Photo/Tatan Syuflana)
Attack survivors attend a meeting between former militants and victims in Jakarta, Indonesia, Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018. One of the main Indonesian groups for survivors of terror attacks has refused to participate in what it says is a flawed government-organized "reconciliation" meeting between former Islamic militants and victims. (AP Photo/Tatan Syuflana)
Bali bombing survivor Khusnul Khotimah, center, attends a meeting between former militants and victims, in Jakarta, Indonesia, Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018. One of the main Indonesian groups for survivors of terror attacks has refused to participate in what it says is a flawed government-organized "reconciliation" meeting between former Islamic militants and victims. (AP Photo/Tatan Syuflana)
Attendees watch a video presentation featuring former Islamic militant Mukhtar Daeng Lau during a meeting between former militants and victims, in Jakarta, Indonesia, Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018. One of the main Indonesian groups for survivors of terror attacks has refused to participate in what it says is a flawed government-organized "reconciliation" meeting between former Islamic militants and victims. (AP Photo/Tatan Syuflana)

JAKARTA, Indonesia — One of the main Indonesian groups for survivors of terror attacks has refused to participate in what it says is a flawed government-organized "reconciliation" meeting between former Islamic militants and victims.

The three days of meetings between dozens of ex-militants and victims has its finale on Wednesday with speeches by seven government ministers, the singing of the national anthem, prayers and the screening of videos showing parts of the previous two days, which were closed to the media.

Sucipto Hari Wibowo, co-founder of the Indonesian Survivors Foundation, said the government has good intentions but many survivors have yet to come to terms with what happened to them let alone face the people responsible.

The rights of victims are "more important than a reconciliation held under the spotlight," he told The Associated Press.

Officials have billed the event as an important step in combating radicalism and fostering reconciliation.

Indonesia has imprisoned hundreds of Islamic militants in the years since the 2002 Bali bombings that killed more than 200 people, mostly foreigners.

But its efforts at convincing them to renounce violence have had mixed results. In overcrowded and understaffed prisons, militants have been able to convert other prisoners to radicalism and communicate with supporters on the outside to encourage new attacks that they believe will advance their cause of transforming Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, into an Islamic state.

At least 18 former militant prisoners have been involved in attacks in Indonesia since 2010, including a January 2016 suicide bombing and gun attack in downtown Jakarta that killed eight people, including the attackers.

Wibowo, a survivor of the 2004 bombing of the Australian Embassy in Jakarta, said many of the people under the umbrella of his group, which goes by the Indonesian acronym YPI, are psychologically unprepared to meet attackers, particularly in the big numbers participating in the government event.

"A public reconciliation would definitely involve high emotional pressure for some victims," he said. "Even though many of them (the militants) have shown and expressed deep remorse and want to change, they have caused these people's disabilities and the loss of their husbands, wives, parents, children and siblings."

"After a decade, perhaps we have finished reconciling with ourselves, we can accept what happened to us, but to reconcile with the attackers is a different matter, it needs a different process," he said.

Jan Laczynski, an Australian who lost five friends to the bombing of the Sari Club in Bali and narrowly avoided being at the venue himself, said his 2015 meeting with one of the perpetrators was a frustrating experience because it didn't provide any answers.

He doubts meetings with reformed militants can result in any release of pain or anger for victims.

"It's going to reopen wounds," he said of the Jakarta event. "The hurt is still there, the anger is still there, the pain is still there."

A measure of that feeling, he said, was the overwhelming amount of thanks he received from Australians and Indonesians to a video of the 2015 meeting that showed him refusing to shake the hand of Ali Imron, the driver of a vehicle and its deadly payload that exploded outside the Sari Club.

Yet the co-founder of another victims group that is participating in the reconciliation meetings, the Indonesian Bombing Victims Association, said forgiveness had resolved an overwhelming anger that had hampered his recovery.

"We cannot force the victims to come as there are also some militants who are not willing to come," said Febby Firmansyah Isran, who suffered burns to 45 percent of his body from the 2003 bombing of the J.W. Marriot hotel in Jakarta.

"For me, holding a grudge is just useless. It cannot change the impact I suffered, it's better to accept it as destiny," he told the AP earlier this week.

Speaking at the Jakarta event, the chief of Indonesia's counterterrorism agency acknowledged criticism from survivors that the Indonesian government only gives attention to convicted militants it hopes to reform.

Suhardi Alius said there is no legal framework for providing compensation to victims who often also require costly long-term medical treatment.

Compensation is being discussed as part of amendments to the country's counterterrorism law, he said. The draft law has been stalled in Indonesia's parliament for several years, partly over fears it hands too much power to police.

"Some need medical treatment for a long time," Alius said. "We are trying to make such treatment unlimited by time and done at maximum standards. Efforts to collect funds to compensate the survivors hopefully will not be hampered by bureaucracy in the future."

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