Oct 13, 2012

Indonesia - Yudhoyono skips Bali bombing commemoration

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In a move that may be viewed as showing a lack of empathy, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono will not attend Friday’s commemoration of the Bali bombings, leaving Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard as the sole head of government at the event.

While some officials at the Presidential Palace said that Yudhoyono had more important things to do today, other officials contacted by The Jakarta Post yesterday evening said that they did not know the president’s schedule for today.

Yudhoyono’s spokesman for foreign affairs, Teuku Faizasyah, said that the president had been scheduled to attend “important activities that were scheduled some time ago.”

On the prospects for a presidential visit to Bali, Faizasyah said, “If there is any possibility, of course it would be good. But his commitment to domestic issues must remain a top priority.”

Since Gillard’s presence in Bali was not part of a formal head-of-state visit, there was “no obligation” for the president to attend the ceremony, Faizasyah said.

The spokesman dismissed suggestions that Yudhoyono’s absence evinced a lack of empathy for the 88 Australians who perished in the blasts on Oct 12, 2002. The attack killed 202 people, mostly foreign tourists.

“As far as I know, the Australian government does not expect the President to attend. We have not received any formal request,” Faizasyah said.

The Australian government has confirmed the attendance of Gillard, along with Australian opposition leader Tony Abbott and former prime minister John Howard, despite an intelligence report on a possible threat targeting VVIP guests at the event. Gillard touched down in Denpasar late yesterday.

The ceremony will be the largest commemoration of the attacks. It will also be the last official commemoration.

The main memorial service will be held at the Garuda Wisnu Kencana (GWK) cultural park in Jimbaran, while a second ceremony organised by Paguyuban Isana Dewata will be held in the evening at the former site of the Sari Club where the Ground Zero Monument stands. The ceremony will begin at 7pm, which will include a vigil and the laying of a wreath.

Yudhoyono has appointed Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa to attend the ceremony to represent the government. Other officials, including Health Minister Nafsiah Mboi, are also expected to attend.

Nafsiah is slated to accompany Gillard when visiting Sanglah General Hospital in the provincial capital, Denpasar, where most of the victims of the bombings were treated in the aftermath of the bombing.

“Without diminishing our respect for the Australians, I think the presence of the foreign minister is appropriate in terms of bilateral relations,” Faizasyah said.

The National Police have deployed 2,000 officers to secure the event and surrounding areas. All those attending will pass through security screenings.

Andi Widjajanto, an expert on international politics from the University of Indonesia, said that Yudhoyono’s absence was not likely to harm Indonesia and Australia’s diplomatic relations.

“Yudhoyono has informed the Australian government about his plan. If Gillard finally comes, Australia must have already accepted the situation and has not taken it seriously,” Andi said.

He said that Gillard’s visit to Bali was related to Australian domestic politics.

“Gillard wants to reinforce Australia’s political stance on the ‘war on terror’ to mitigate the fallout from the killing of Australian soldiers in Afghanistan,” Andi said.

Five Australian soldiers were killed in Afghanistan in separate incidents on August 30, prompting Gillard to call it “the single worst day in Afghanistan”.

Yudhoyono, meanwhile, wrote an opinion piece titled “Bali’s resolve was only reinforced by terrorists”, published in the Thursday edition of The Sydney Morning Herald.

The President said the “monstrous act of terror” in Bali failed to achieve its goal of fracturing Indonesia.

“The Bali bomb attacks did not produce the desired effects. In fact, they resulted in just the opposite. Throughout Indonesia, Muslims, Hindus, Christians and Buddhists overwhelmingly condemned the attack and repudiated those who misused religion to carry out acts of violence,” Yudhoyono said.

In another piece titled “Bali tragedy cemented a special bond” also published on Thursday, Yudhoyono said, “All I know is that the victims did not die in vain, and that we shall not let such a tragedy ever take place again.”

Bagus BT Saragih and Agnes Winarti
The Jakarta Post

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