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U.S. Envoy Upbeat on Safety of Travel to Indonesia

New U.S. Envoy Suggests State Department Warnings Will Soon Ease.

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Recent comments by U.S.A. Ambassador Ralph L. Boyce may herald an easing of the current U.S. State Department travel warnings early in 2002.

Speaking in an interview published in the Sunday, 23 December, 2001, edition of the Indonesian-language daily Kompas, Ambassador Boyce answered questions from a team of 3 Indonesian journalists. Excerpts from that interview are included below:

The experience of your predecessor suggests that being the U.S. Ambassador is not an easy task. (Interviewer's note: Boyce's predecessor, Ambassador Gelbard, was often criticized for interference in Indonesia's domestic affairs.)

Being an American U.S. Ambassador anywhere right now is not an easy task due to the high expectations placed upon you and, occasionally, the disaffection with the fact that the U.S.A. is currently so dominant on the world stage - be it in economic terms, culturally, and, frankly, in terms of power. We are the sole remaining superpower. This fact does not always make people happy. As a result, the American Ambassador has become the personification of what people feel is either good or bad about America. So, no matter where one serves, being the American ambassador today is a challenging job.

The Indonesian posting is an important one. To cite one example, last week all the American ambassadors in Asia, 25 of them, and leaders from Washington, D.C. met in Hawaii. There were three panels held at that meeting dealing with China, Japan and Indonesia. These were the three people everyone wanted to hear.

Why Indonesia?

Because Indonesia represents the 4th largest country in the world destined to become a large nation having experienced the democratic process of - in the polite terms of diplomatic parlance - moving from a non-transparent economy to a modern, democratic economy; people struggling from a very basic level and succeeding to achieve remarkable success ...

Can you explain what you mean when you say Indonesia must cooperate in fighting international terrorism?

I know the Indonesian people saw what happened in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania on September 11. This was sickening - to, with a very few exceptions - all Indonesians - Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus or any other group and was an act not connected with any religion. This was an act of barbarity. It cannot be defended. The Indonesian people and the people of the U.S. share the same view of the events of September 11.

... Terrorism must be eliminated; action must be taken. This is in accordance with the global coalition. Of course, there were some points of disagreement. In the beginning, when we had just begun the Afghanistan campaign, there were demonstrations against the bombing. There were also those who disagreed with the idea of a superpower supervising women and children in Pakistan refugee camps.

It was indeed very difficult when I first arrived in Jakarta, last October. At that time, I said we can agree to disagree. Friends often don't agree, that does not mean their friendship has ended. I think the view (about the Afghanistan campaign) has already changed.

I think the people now see that the Northern Alliance is much more Islamic than the Taliban. I say much more "Islamic" than the Taliban because of the information which has emerged regarding how the Taliban treated the women of Afghanistan, their own people. This kind of information can now be known, which means that freedom now exists.

I think the Indonesian people have now read this type of information, in particular regarding the behavior of the Taliban, and at the very least now know how they allowed their country to be hijacked by the Al-Qaeda. That is why I believe the wave of protests have stopped. This is understandable, isn't it?

How about the anti-American feeling reported in Indonesia recently?

I never accepted the idea that there were widespread anti-American feelings in Indonesia. This is an impression encountered not only in the U.S.A., but elsewhere in the world. I believe this occurred because of the strength of the media. When I arrived here there was a feeling of resentment among the Indonesians at being depicted as a living in violent country and that every night on CNN they saw barbed wire and water cannons (associated with their country). I think people hated this image ...

I began with reluctance to accept the concept that anti-Americanism sentiments existed in Indonesia. I believe that there is no widespread feeling of opposition to America in Indonesia.

Has the situation improved? - Clearly, the situation outside the Embassy is calmer; there is no more barbed wire. There are no more water canons, no more trucks, and most importantly - there are no more demonstrations. In this regard, the situation has improved.

Does this mean there's no problem visiting Indonesia? What about the travel warning (for Indonesia) that has been issued by the U.S. State Department?

I think that Americans should feel themselves free to come to Indonesia providing they use good judgment. If you come as tourists, perhaps you should avoid Ambon and Banda Aceh. I feel there should not be a travel advisory against travel to all of Indonesia, as though the situation was the same from Banda Aceh to Papua.

We have already changed our travel advisory. Previously we reminded Americans to not come to Indonesia, I think now we suggest people avoid unnecessary travel to Indonesia. Frankly, in my opinion, the advisory should say when you come to Indonesia use good judgment. Don't go to places that are having problems. I think this is the direction in which we are heading. In the New Year I believe that this will be the recommendation given by the U.S. Department of State.

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