Sun, 13 Aug 2000

Gus Dur to visit Baghdad to call for lifting of sanction

JAKARTA (JP): President Abdurrahman Wahid said on Saturday that he would visit Iraq in the coming months and called for the lifting of international sanctions against the country.

"I will visit Baghdad at the end of this summer," Gus Dur, as the President is popularly called, told a joint press conference with visiting Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

The statement came after Chavez, fresh from a trip to Baghdad during which he met Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, gave an impassioned plea for the world to take notice of the extreme suffering there.

Chavez, who arrived in Jakarta early Saturday morning for a brief visit, said UN sanctions against Iraq, which have been in place since the Gulf War, were an injustice and were causing intense misery to the country's children.

"Who has the right to (cause) an innocent child to die there," he said in an emotional plea to end the sanctions. "Let God have pity on the souls of those who act that way.

"I think the time has come for it to be over," he said, speaking through an interpreter.

Chavez said his son, who is traveling with him on a whirlwind trip to visit members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), visited a mosque in Baghdad and saw a naked child dying from cancer.

"They don't have the medical drugs they need to treat him," he said.

Abdurrahman said that he shared Chavez's sentiment and that "Indonesia would like to see the blockade on Iraq lifted soon."

Chavez's visit to Iraq angered the United States and Britain who said they were concerned about giving the Iraqi president credibility.

Gas exploration

Earlier, Abdurrahman said that during his 90-minute meeting with Chavez, the two countries had agreed to cooperate on oil and gas exploration.

"We have agreed on the idea to form a joint effort to explore Indonesia's oil and gas resources and to develop the economy in general," he said.

According to Abdurrahman, Indonesia could benefit from Venezuelan oil exploration technology, and Venezuela in return could learn from Indonesia's experience in gas exploration.

Chavez, whose country currently holds the revolving presidency of OPEC, is due to travel from Jakarta to Libya, Nigeria and Algeria, before returning next week to Caracas where the OPEC summit has been scheduled from Sept. 27 through Sept. 30.

He said he had come to Indonesia to invite Abdurrahman to attend the summit and that Wahid had accepted.

"Forty years of OPEC and a new era begins. We need fair prices for our oil for (the benefit of) our people and the deepening of our relations. These are the great expectations we have for the second summit of OPEC," he said, but did not comment on current price levels.

Oil is currently selling on the world markets at about US$27.50 a barrel.

After the meeting and lunch with Gus Dur, Chavez left Jakarta on an afternoon flight for Tripoli to discuss oil issues with Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi. (byg)