Mon, 13 Jun 1994

Half of pilgrims have returned

JAKARTA (JP): Over 50 percent of 165,000 Indonesian pilgrims have returned home from Mecca aboard 210 flights, the Ministry of Religious Affairs said yesterday.

Today, 10 flights of wide-bodied planes are expected to land in Jakarta, Surabaya and Medan, North Sumatra, to bring in another 4800 pilgrims from Jakarta, West Java, Jambi, South Sumatra, South Kalimantan, West Nusa Tenggara and Aceh. Today no haj flights are scheduled for Ujungpandang.

All Indonesian pilgrims will be eventually flown in aboard more than 250 flights. The last plane is due in on June 24.

The Ministry also reported that a total of 578 Indonesian pilgrims had died in Saudi Arabia during the course of this year's pilgrimage. This number includes seven pilgrims who were trampled to death in a stampede in Mina, near Mecca, which claimed the lives of hundreds of people.

Last year, a total of 394 of 123,000 Indonesian pilgrims died, mainly because of disease.

Indonesia's Consulate General in Saudi Arabia reported that Saudi government will issue a documentary film on this year's haj pilgrimage. The report does not mention any details about Mina stampede.

To members of House of Representatives (DPR) from Commission IX last week, Minister of Religious Affairs Tarmizi Taher explained this year's pilgrimage. Commission IX deals with education and religious affairs.

He indicated that one private haj organizing company had violated a government rule by bypassing the ministry in handling their own pilgrims.

"It has undermined the government and tried to disrupt the Indonesian haj management," Tarmizi told members of the Commission.


Following Tarmizi's statements concerning one disobedient company dealing with haj, Gozali Katianda, chairman of the association of private minor pilgrimage and pilgrimage organizers (AMPUH), met with Director General for Moslems and Haj Affairs Amidhan to discuss the matter.

The ministry released a statement over the weekend saying that the suspected company is PT Tiga Utama, which is also an AMPUH member. Tarmizi is expected to summon the company today.

Tarmizi said the first trick the company used was telephoning the Indonesian embassy at Riyadh, saying that those going to Mecca with regular passports would be netted and detained by Saudi government.

"Sending false messages is a common strategy," Tarmizi said. "Their motives could either have been politics or money. It might have been money because we have tried to be tougher on those who go on haj with regular passports."

The Indonesian government had issued a regulation that those who went on haj pilgrimage had to use special passports with brown covers.

The ministry said although the number of this year's pilgrims organized by the government increased 30 percent over last year's number, those organized by private companies declined from over 5,000 to some 4,500 pilgrims.

"But that's a formal number. The exact number is much higher because Tiga Utama itself has escorted some 2,500 pilgrims," said an official at the ministry.

When The Jakarta Post tried to reach Andi Abdul Latief, head of PT Tiga Utama, his subordinate said he was still in Saudi Arabia. None of the other executives were available for comment. (11)