Fri, 22 Sep 2000

'Envoys unconcerned with Jakarta's security'

JAKARTA (JP): Jakarta diplomatic corps dean Ribhi Y. Awad said on Thursday that foreign ambassadors and their staff had only taken on modest security precautions following recent acts of terrorism in the capital.

In an interview with The Jakarta Post at his office on Jl. Diponegoro, Central Jakarta, Awad, who is also the Palestine ambassador to Indonesia, said he and his colleagues firmly believed that the security climate would quickly improve.

Moreover, he said he had repeatedly advised fellow envoys not to overreact.

"I always say to my colleagues 'don't panic'," he said.

"There is a fine line between panic and vigilance. I don't call on the people to panic ... or to be obsessed with the security issue," added Awad, who is also chairman of the local Arab Ambassadors Council.

He said embassies were not entitled to have tanks or armored cars stationed outside their buildings or envoys' homes.

"I'm sure that we will never reach that (awful) situation," Awad added.

People throughout the capital, including foreigners, have been shaken by a series of deadly bombings.

The latest device was left in the basement parking lot of the 34-story Jakarta Stock Exchange building in South Jakarta last week. It left at least 11 people dead and dozens of others injured.

On Aug. 1, another powerful bomb exploded in front of the official residence of Philippine Ambassador Leonides T. Caday in Central Jakarta. The strong blast killed two people and injured 21 others.

Awad said the diplomatic community had taken only standard precautionary measures, such as tightening security from local staff to help protect embassies and ambassadors' residences.

The Indonesian government has also upped security at several embassies which had reported they were in a dangerous situation, he said.

Awad, however, refused to reveal the names of the countries.

He said he had spoken to several government officials, including Vice President Megawati Soekarnoputri and foreign minister Alwi Shihab, who all said they were committed to safeguarding the diplomatic community.

"We are confident that they meant it and we trust them, but we are aware that a tranquil atmosphere can not be created overnight," Awad said.

Unfortunately, he added, the personal experiences of some envoys had contributed to concerns in the diplomatic community over safety in Jakarta.

"Some (diplomatic residences) have been subjected to vandalism, burglary, and stealing. For example, ... the house of the United Arab Emirates' ambassador.

"In the last two months, his house has been burgled twice," Awad said

"There is concern and anxiety that the house of an ambassador was attacked by burglars twice in two months."

The U.A.E ambassador was robbed by seven men in the first burglary, he added.

The burglars, he said, left the house with several electronic appliances.

Gangs of robbers have also managed to break into the residences of the Kuwaiti and Iraqi ambassadors and steal electronic goods, he said.

Awad added that an official at the Algerian Embassy had been attacked in his house recently by burglars, who also made away with electronic goods.

"These acts of burglary are very sensitive," he said.

Awad said the bombings were a cause of concern to the diplomatic community, particularly the powerful blast near the residence of the Manila envoy, which happened very close to his home.

"I remember when it happened, our doors were slamming," he recalled.

Last week, he said, the Libyan Embassy was subject to a bomb threat that later turned out to be a hoax.

Awad said he was troubled by the seemingly continuous student brawls in front of his office.

"There are brawls between school children almost everyday in front of our embassy. Believe me, I'm frustrated sometimes," Awad said.

"I've been to school in Palestine. All school children get into a fight once or twice, but never on a daily basis," said Awad, who once shot a suspected robber in his house.

"I think it's the responsibility of the family, the schools, the mass media and government to make a concerted effort to stop this ugly behavior where the students attack each other." (jaw)