Fri, 14 Feb 2003

Special team preparing evacuation from Mideast

Tiarma Siboro, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

A special team set up to deal with the effects of a potential crisis in Iraq embarked on a two-week visit to eight countries in the Middle East on Thursday to make arrangements in the event of a war.

Team leader Adm. (ret) Widodo Adisucipto said that Indonesia would likely evacuate its citizens in dangerous areas to Syria, Qatar and Saudi Arabia which were considered to be relatively safe.

"At first, we will meet officials from eight Middle Eastern countries to convey a message from President Megawati Soekarnoputri to ask for their help should it be deemed necessary to evacuate.

"We will also meet all the Indonesian citizens living there to explain the whole process of evacuation if the situation worsens in Iraq," said Widodo, the former chief of the Indonesian Military (TNI).

The Eight countries are Jordan, Syria, Turkey, Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

According to Widodo, some 50,000 Indonesians are living in the region and most of them work as domestic servants in the informal sector.

Some one hundred Indonesians studying in Iraq have already flown home due to the escalating tension between the United States and Iraq over the issue of weapons of mass destruction.

"Such preparations should not be perceived as if we (Indonesian government) see a war in Iraq as inevitable ... our stance is still clear, to push for a peaceful solution," Widodo said.

Indonesian religious leaders had earlier expressed their concern over the heightened tension between Washington and Baghdad, following allegations that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein is developing weapons of mass destruction as well as aiding and abetting the al-Qaeda terrorist network which claimed responsibility for the Sept. 11 attacks.

The United States' tough stance on Iraq has met opposition from three of its traditional European allies, Belgium, France and Germany, as well as most Muslim countries, including Indonesia. In addition to antiwar demonstrations held by tens of thousands of Muslims here, religious groups and independent figures have sent a peace mission to Europe and Australia to seek support for their mission to prevent war in Iraq.