Fri, 21 Mar 2003

RI says attack on Iraq an act of aggression

Fabiola Desy Unidjaja and Muninggar Sri Saraswati, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Indonesia joined the worldwide uproar against the United States' unilateral attack on Iraq on Thursday, and called for an immediate end to the war.

Branding the U.S. move an act of aggression, Indonesia urged the United Nations to call an emergency meeting to force the U.S. to stop the war as soon as possible.

At a rare press briefing which was attended by Cabinet senior members, President Megawati Soekarnoputri also appealed to people to express their sympathy for the Iraqi in an orderly manner for the sake of national stability.

"The government and people of Indonesia strongly deplore the unilateral action taken by the government of the United States of America and its allies, who have decided to go to war against Iraq. Indonesian deeply regrets that the multilateral process through the UN Security Council has been sidelined.

"Indonesia is of the view that the use of military force against Iraq based on a unilateral decision constitutes an act of aggression, which is in contravention to international law. This unilateral military action has also threatened the world order," the President said.

For the first time ever, Megawati personally addressed the Iraq issue during a media conference, instead of assigning the task to her aides.

Vice President Hamzah Haz, a noted Muslim leader, along with all three coordinating ministers -- Coordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Coordinating Minister for the Economy Dorodjatun Kuntjoro- Jakti, and Coordinating Minister for Peoples' Welfare Jusuf Kalla -- stood by her side during the briefing.

The government's stance echoed public resentment here, with inter-faith leaders, political parties and other community leaders having publicly opposed the attack.

Originally, the President's statement, which was prepared by the foreign ministry, was to use the word "condemn" in reference to the unilateral attack on Iraq, but was changed to "deplore" during the Cabinet meeting pending further development, a source told The Jakarta Post.

It took the Cabinet three hours to discuss the economic impacts of the war on Indonesia.

Indonesia's strong remarks can be understood as the context of the war in Iraq now differs from the war 12 years ago, when Washington attacked Iraq after its invasion of Kuwait.

The President's comment was welcomed by an analyst and legislators, who said it was a good move to stand up and address the issue directly.

"It sends a clear message to the United States that we do not understand their use of force, and it is stern enough to explain our stance to the domestic constituent," analyst Juwono Sudarsono said.

A similar view was also expressed by legislator Pramono Anung from the country's largest party the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan), who said that the statement may have prevented the president's opponents to use the war against her administration.

"We urged the President to continue taking the lead in responding the issue to minimize any possibility that the issue could be used as means to challenge her leadership," said legislator Ibrahim Ambong, a staunch critic of Megawati from the Golkar Party, the second largest party in the country.

Meanwhile, National Police Chief Gen. Da'i Bachtiar ordered on Thursday his subordinates to heighten protection measures for foreigners and foreign interests in the country.

Sr. Comr. Zainuri Lubis, police spokesman, told reporters that the operation would be in effect indefinitely.

"This won't be like an ordinary police operation," he said.

During the operation, Zainuri said, police would not only monitor foreign offices and embassies, but also the residences of foreigners.

The police have beefed up security in locations where foreigners are concentrated, particularly in Jakarta, Yogyakarta, Medan, Surabaya and on the island of Bali.