Tue, 04 Sep 2001

Agriculture ministry rejects mutton donated from Saudi Arabia

SURABAYA (JP): East Java Governor Imam Utomo stuck to his stance over the 80 tons of mutton donated by the Saudi Arabian government for Madurese refugees that the meat could be accepted.

"It's up to the central government and the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Jakarta what they decide to do with the meat. It was the Ministry of Agriculture which rejected the mutton over fears the meat may have been contaminated by foot and mouth disease. East Java was just supposed to be the recipient."

East Java, including the island of Madura, is now home to some 120,000 Madurese people, who fled their homes in Sampit, Central Kalimantan and Sambas in West Kalimantan following ethnic clashes in 1999 and 2001.

The mutton which arrived at the Surabaya port, Tanjung Perak, 11 days ago, is now being kept at the temporary container port (TPS). The Saudi Arabian government had sent the mutton without informing the provincial government.

The provincial administration declined to accept the mutton when it arrived at the port. The port management PT Pelindo III said they knew nothing about the mutton.

Asked if clinical tests were needed to examine the mutton, Imam just said, "It depends on the government. I was informed that Saudi Arabia will reexport the meat."

In a related development, the head of the provincial husbandry office, Sigit Hanggono, said that the province's decision to reject the mutton was based on a letter from the Minister of Agriculture Bungaran Saragih. The letter, quoting the International Animal Health Organization (OIE), said that during this year's haj pilgrimage two dangerous cattle diseases, foot and mouth disease and valley fever, were found in Saudi Arabia.

Hanggono also said that Indonesia, which had been free from the disease since 1983, was determined to maintain its reputation. "We don't want to risk our reputation."

Six Saudi Arabian Embassy's staff, led by Ahmad AM Alamoude clarified the status of the mutton with the provincial legislative council and East Java Deputy Governor Imam Supardi.

Alamoude, accompanied by a virologist from the Bogor Institute of Agriculture (IPB), insisted that the mutton was not contaminated by any hazardous virus. (nur/sur)