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Editorial: Oh Say Can You See?

American Advice on Indonesian Travel is Both Outdated and Outrageous.

(6/17/2002) Recent comments by the U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia, Ralph Boyce, on the safety of travel to Indonesia flatly contradict the official travel announcements issued by his employer, the U.S. Department of State.

Quoted in the June 12th edition of The Jakarta Post from a Dow Jones Newsservice syndicated article, America's highest official in Jakarta said, "I personally wouldn't warn Americans not to go to Southeast Asia." Speaking in the U.S. before a meeting of the Asia Society, Ambassador Boyce was reported as telling his listeners that Southeast Asia and Indonesia are "generally pro-American and generally quite safe if visitors exercise common sense and, for example, avoid areas torn by strife."

U.S. State Department Warnings Differ Greatly

While we have tremendous respect for Ambassador Boyce and the great strides he has made in normalizing diplomatic communications between Washington and Jakarta, his recent comments indicate, at the very least, that his viewpoint and advice is largely ignored by his boss, U.S. Secretary of State, General Colin Powell.

The official travel advisories issued by the U.S. Department of State and posted on the Jakarta Embassy's website dispenses advice to potential U.S. visitors to Indonesia vastly different from the opinions of the U.S. Ambassador to the Republic. That advisory, posted and unchanged and unupdated since November 23, 2001, urges Americans "to defer non-essential travel to Indonesia."

What was once a temporary suggestion by the U.S. Government has come to resemble a permanent trade embargo on Indonesian tourism from the U.S.A.. Moreover, those who maintain that U.S. travel warnings are part of the arsenal of diplomatic statecraft and have nothing to do with traveler safety seem vindicated by Ambassador Boyce's informed difference of opinion with his employers in Washington.

Who Do We Believe?

In determining who provides the best counsel on matters related to Indonesia travel, our vote is clearly with the distinguished Ambassador Boyce.

Fortunately, foreign visitors of any country of origin continue to enjoy safe visits to Bali and other parts of Indonesia and, to our knowledge, have not been the victims or targets of any violent acts directed at specific national groups. That the U.S. Travel advisories continue to ignore this simple fact is both concerning and all-telling.

The recent incarceration in the U.S.A. of yet another American-born "terrorists" only serves to underline that the U.S. does both its own citizens and the rest of the world a tremendous disservice in simple-mindedly defining the lines of battle in the war on terrorism in terms of national boundaries and religious orientation.

In seeking to expand its legion of allies in the war on terror, the U.S. would be well advised to reconsider carefully those steps that only serve to marginalize potential brethren in that fundamentally all-important struggle.

A good place to start: an urgent review of the current travel advisory on Indonesia.