Fri, 21 Mar 2003

U.S., British, Aussie embassies remain open despite war

Sari P. Setiogi, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The U.S., British and Australian Embassies in Jakarta kept their doors open on Thursday despite the Iraq war, which started earlier in the day.

"The U.S. Embassy is open as normal today. Right now we plan to keep the embassy open for business, including processing visa applications," U.S. Public Affairs Attache Stan Harsha told the Post on Thursday.

But Harsha said the embassy would be closed for visa processing on Friday, but other departments would remain open. Meanwhile, the U.S. Consulate General in Surabaya will be completely closed on Friday.

Harsha was clarifying a The Jakarta Post report saying that the Embassy was closed on Wednesday due to the Iraq war.

According to the warden message from the U.S. Embassy to U.S. citizens in Indonesia, the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta and the U.S. Consulate General in Surabaya may temporarily close or suspend public services at other times in the weeks ahead for security reasons.

Harsha also said that there were no heightened security precautions being taken due to the war. "We just have the same sort of security precautions as we had before. We always inform our staff to be careful. We have been very careful anyway since the terrorist acts that occurred earlier," said Harsha.

British Embassy press officer Mila Sudjono told the Post that they were still open on Thursday, as was the consular office for visa processing in the Deutsche Bank building on Jl. Imam Bonjol.

"At this moment, the diplomats at the British Embassy are taking every precaution, and have advised all their residents in Indonesia to heighten their precautions, especially in the evening," said British Ambassador Richard Gozney, responding to a written inquiry from the Post.

Whether any special measures would be taken by the embassy if the situation worsened, Gozney said that would depend on developments. "There is no intention to close the embassy so far, let alone to evacuate the staff," he said.

The same applied to the Australian Embassy on Jl. HR. Rasuna Said, South Jakarta. "It's business as usual at the Australian Embassy today," public affairs counselor Kirk Coningham told the Post.

But he said that the embassy was on high alert. "The embassy is already on top security alert. We have been telling our staff to be more cautious ever since the Bali bombings," said Coningham.

He also said that so far the embassy had no special plans regarding the Iraq war, but they would keep watching the situation closely and would respond as things developed.

Meanwhile, the U.S. honorary consul's office on Jl. Hayam Wuruk, Bali, appeared to have extra security provided by the Bali Police on Thursday.

According to Mala, a staffer with the U.S. honorary consul's office in Bali, they had not requested any additional security from the Bali Police.

"They came of their own initiative. They were not even here this morning," said Mala. She also said that the honorary consul's office was still open to serve U.S. citizens.

Several concrete blockades have been installed in front of the Australian Consulate General on Jl. Moh. Yamin, Denpasar.

Earlier on Wednesday, Bali Police chief Insp. Gen. Budi Setyawan called on foreign consuls in Bali and advised them to be prepared should the situation worsen.

A rumor also did the rounds on Thursday saying that U.S. Ambassador Ralph Boyce and most of the U.S. Embassy staff members in Jakarta were leaving the country.

Harsha denied the rumor, saying that the ambassador and his staff were still in the country.