Fri, 21 Mar 2003

Govt ready to evacuate 50,000 Indonesians from Middle East

Fabiola Desy Unidjaja, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

President Megawati Soekarnoputri has sent former Indonesian Military (TNI) commander Adm. (ret) Widodo Adisucipto to Kuwait to oversee the possible evacuation of around 50,000 Indonesians living in the Middle East.

Widodo, the country chief for the national team on the Iraq crisis, will be stationed in Kuwait, where he will lead a mission aimed at ensuring the safety of Indonesians in the region in the wake of war in Iraq.

"He should closely supervise any evacuation process of fellow citizens in the Middle East," the President told a media conference on Thursday.

She further said that the evacuation process would be under the direction of the three coordinating ministers.

"All Indonesian nationals living in the region, especially near Iraq, should remain calm and report to the nearest Indonesian mission for assistance and protection," the President said.

The contingency plan for Indonesians in the Middle East went into effect soon after war in Iraq broke out early on Thursday.

Widodo previously traveled to eight Middle East countries bordering Iraq -- Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Jordan, Syria, Qatar, United Arab Emirate and Libya -- to prepare evacuations.

The Indonesian Embassy in Baghdad has been closed as of Monday and 30 remaining nationals were evacuated. Indonesian Ambassador to Iraq Dachlan Abdul Hamid will be stationed in Damascus until further notice.

Two Indonesian students have remained in Baghdad.

"The two students chose to remain in Baghdad, and we have not received any request for assistance from them to be relocated to a safer place (after the attacks)," foreign ministry spokesman Marty Natalegawa said.

Foreign minister Hassan Wirayuda said Kuwait was the most strategic exit point as most Indonesian workers were there.

Government data reveals that 33,000 Indonesian work in Kuwait as housemaids, while another 15,000 live in Saudi Arabia near the Iraqi border.

"Maybe we should not evacuate everybody, but move them to safer ground," Hassan said.