Sat, 04 Nov 2000

Indonesia calls on U.S. to reopen its embassy

JAKARTA (JP): The Indonesian government is calling on the United States to reopen its embassy here and resume consular services to avoid a possible deterioration of ties between the two countries.

Indonesian Minister of Foreign Affairs Alwi Shihab said on Friday that he had spoken with the U.S. deputy ambassador here, and told him that if the embassy remained closed too long "it will become a source of speculation about the relations between Indonesia and the U.S."

"If the problem is a security one it can be resolved, and the police chief has stated that he will resolve it," he said.

Alwi expressed hope the embassy, which has been closed since Oct. 24, would reopen to the public on Tuesday.

In its latest announcement, the embassy said its public services would remain closed until Monday.

The closure came amid a slew of criticism by some Indonesian officials and legislators of the conduct of U.S. Ambassador Robert Gelbard.

Throughout all of the rhetoric, Jakarta has maintained that relations with Washington remain strong.

Security officials here questioned on Friday U.S. Embassy statements which alluded to "a credible threat" as the grounds for closing its public services.

The spokesman for the Jakarta Military Command, Lt. Col. Djazairi Nachrowi, told The Jakarta Post this statement was an "exaggeration".

"The military command has not found any recent mass movements with the potential to rock the capital, therefore the closure was a bit an exaggeration. The situation in the city remains calm," he said.

The head of the Jakarta Police's operational control center, Sr. Insp. Nono Suprijono, also doubted there was a credible threat to the embassy.

"That is what the embassy has said. Whether it really received the threat or not, we'll never know. However, we are always ready to secure the compound, whether it is requested or not," he said at the control center.

The embassy has refused to elaborate on the phrase "a credible threat", which has consistently appeared in its statements.

"We don't usually discuss security matters with the public," Karl Fritz, an official at the embassy, told the Post recently.

Indonesian Minister of Defense Mahfud MD, one of the most vocal critics of Gelbard, again expressed his personal dissatisfaction with the ambassador. He said he "does not support" Gelbard as the ambassador of the United States to Indonesia, but can "appreciate and respect" Washington's decision to appoint him to the post.

"I said that I appreciate the U.S. government, which appointed the ambassador to carry out his duties .... Therefore I urge Gelbard to appreciate us, too," Mahfud said on Friday.

The minister said he would not change his personal opinion of the ambassador if Gelbard "continues to engage in activities which disregard the sovereignty of the state".

House of Representatives Commission I for foreign affairs sent a letter to President Abdurrahman Wahid on Friday, calling for the President to urge the United States government to withdraw Gelbard.

Commission chairman Yasril Ananta Baharudin maintained that Gelbard has made numerous controversial statements that have insulted Indonesia.

"He has several times interfered in the country's internal affairs," he added.

Gelbard, who is out of the country for personal business, said in an interview with The Washington Post the worsening relationship between the U.S. and Indonesia was the work of President Abdurrahman Wahid's opponents.

"There is no question that a major part of what has been going on involves those who want to see this government fail.

"They want to create a rift between the United States and the government of Indonesia," Gelbard said.

The Washington Post did not say where the interview was conducted.(02/asa/byg)