Fri, 03 Nov 2000

U.S. Embassy to remain closed pending further assessment

JAKARTA (JP): There remains no confirmation on when public services at the United States Embassy here will resume as sources said an assessment on when to open the embassy will be made on Monday.

"The embassy will make an evaluation on Monday (on whether it will reopen the office the following day)," a source told The Jakarta Post on Thursday.

Citing security reasons, the embassy closed its public services on Nov. 25.

The closure came amid growing acrimony toward U.S. Ambassador Robert Gelbard by certain Cabinet officials and legislators.

The House of Representatives Commission I for defense, security and foreign affairs has also demanded that President Abdurrahman Wahid call on U.S. President Bill Clinton to recall the ambassador.

Embassy officials on Thursday confirmed that Gelbard had left for the United States on Wednesday. However they stressed that it was a personal trip and had nothing to do with the recent developments here.

"The trip was planned a long time ago and it was personal," Karl Fritz, the embassy's press attache told the Post on Thursday.

In Washington, Reuters quoted U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher as saying that Gelbard returned to attend a family wedding.

However he also confirmed that Gelbard would be in Washington for consultations, probably with Under Secretary of State Thomas Pickering late next week.

Separately, several observers again expressed their perplexity over the unnecessary furor that has erupted and called on all parties to tone down their rhetoric, particularly Minister of Defense Mahfud M.D. and Gelbard.

Sociologist Mely G. Tan said the incident would not have arisen if both parties did not over react.

"Indonesia and U.S. ties are too valuable to be broken," Mely told Post.

Noted historian Ong Hok Ham further said the dispute was a result of a foolish incident and that it was "baseless and pointless."

"It is recorded in history that the relationship between Indonesia and U.S. have had its ups and downs...but never over of such a silly issue," he said.

"I think the minister of defense should shut his mouth and not make any comments that will create unnecessary disputes.

"He (Mahfud) is new, he has a lot to learn and he should not meddle with foreign politics...a field that he obviously has not mastered yet. Let's cool things down a bit," Ong remarked. (edt/asa)