Wed, 19 Mar 2003

RI laments U.S. decision to abandon diplomacy

Fabiola Desy Unidjaja and Arya Abhiseka, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, lamented the decision by the United States and its allies not to resolve the Iraq crisis through diplomacy, saying that war was not the solution.

Pleading for all parties to push for a peaceful solution within the next 48 hours, Jakarta said that war would destabilize the entire world.

"We regret the U.S. statement as it will spark acts of violence in the region," Coordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said on Tuesday after an emergency meeting with President Megawati Soekarnoputri.

"We still believe a peaceful solution must be achieved as war will only create chaos around the globe," he held.

The meeting was held to anticipate the imminent war following U.S. President George W. Bush's ultimatum that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein leave his country within 48 hours.

Susilo said Jakarta had asked the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to call an emergency meeting and forge a peaceful end to the crisis.

"We urge all parties to give diplomacy the last chance to work. The UNSC should immediately take steps to avert war in the Gulf," Susilo said.

Vice President Hamzah Haz said an attack on Iraq would be considered an invasion and a violation of that country's sovereignty.

With war seemingly drawing near, Indonesia closed its embassy in Baghdad as of Monday and evacuated all of its nationals from the country. The country also has contingency plans in place to evacuate another 50,000 Indonesians from eight countries near Iraq.

The Indonesian government also offered assurances that its oil supply was sufficient to last until May should war break out. It said it would secure additional oil from Kuwait and increase domestic production.

Fully aware that war may be unavoidable, Indonesia has also alerted its security forces to anticipate a possible backlash against Western interests here.

National Police chief Gen. Da'i Bachtiar said 250,000 of his officers were on alert.

"We are increasing the protection of U.S., Britain and Australian interests, but so far we have yet to receive any major threats against them," the officer said after the emergency meeting.

He also said the Indonesian Military (TNI) was prepared to deploy soldiers to back up the police.

The government also asked community and religious leaders to cooperate in efforts to prevent a backlash in the country.

Later in the day, Megawati called on the nation to maintain peace and order, and refrain from harming foreign interests should war erupt.

"We are against violence. People may protest the war but they should not resort to violence. We demand peace and rallies should not destabilize the country," Megawati said during a gathering of members of her Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan).

Solahuddin Wahid, deputy chairman of the nation's largest Muslim group, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), said the possible war could pose a threat to peace at home.

However, he pledged that NU supporters would not resort to violence to protest a U.S. invasion of Iraq.

"We have warned our followers that this is not a religious war. It is simply a conflict involving U.S. interests in Iraq," he said.

He said that NU members would be allowed to hold peace rallies to protest the war.

"I ask everyone to remain calm about the possibility of war," he said.

His words were in stark contrast to statements coming from radical Muslim groups such as the Islamic Defenders Front, which publicly said it would threaten U.S. interests here in the event of war in Iraq.