Category: Diplomacy

Sporting chance for change

As the Asian Games winds down on Sunday, residents of Jakarta and Palembang – the two co-hosting cities – are wondering what will become of their cities after all the hype and massive revamping and construction of sports venues and infrastructure leading up to event is over.

In notoriously gridlocked Jakarta, commuters have been enjoying reduced traffic and faster travel time as the odd-even licence plate policy has been expanded to more roads for the duration of the games, which end on Sept 2. Private cars with odd-numbered plates can only use those roads on odd-numbered dates, with even-numbered plates allowed on even-numbered dates only.

The policy was expanded to ensure that it would take no more than 30 minutes for Asian Games athletes to travel from the athletes’ village to the main sports venues in the city.

Some residents are happy with the significantly reduced traffic congestions, especially those who use public transport and are often stuck in buses and taxis with fast-running meters.

“It would be good to continue the odd-even plates restrictions and make them permanent. The traffic is much smoother now and we have much less congested roads and intersections, especially when traveling with Transjakarta buses,” Bernadetta Febriana, a resident of South Jakarta said, referring to the city’s main network of public buses.

The Indonesian capital has undergone a dramatic revamp with less than the usual amount of time to prepare to stage the 18th Asian Games, the second-biggest multi sports event after the Olympics.

Opening-Ceremony-Asian-Games-2018-RES-14.jpg
Indonesian contingent at the opening of the 18th Asian Games at the Gelora Bung Karno (GBK) sports complex, Jakarta, Saturday, (18/8). Photo: INASGOC/Ridhwan Siregar

Hanoi was awarded the games in 2012 but withdrew in 2014 citing lack of preparation and financial capability. The Olympics Council of Asia appointed Jakarta and Palembang, the capital of South Sumatra province to co-host the games, although some venues are located on the outskirts of Jakarta in neighboring Banten and West Java provinces. This is the second time that Jakarta has played host to the games. The last time was in 1962.

Urban planning expert Nirwono Joga said the city needed the momentum that an event such as the Asiad can create as a spur to undertake a major revamp and speed up infrastructure development.

“Apparently it is doable, financially and time-wise but it needs a boost to speed it up such as hosting a major event like the Asian Games. We can do it in just a few years and even in months,” he said.

In preparation for the 1962 games, the Indonesian government started construction in 1960 of the Bung Karno sports complex, where the main venues are located. It also built the Selamat Datang (welcome) statue at the roundabout, in front of the Hotel Indonesia – the first international standard hotel in the capital, which was also built to accommodate the Asiad athletes, officials and guests.

For this year’s games, the number of Transjakarta buses has been increased to anticipate those traveling without private cars due to the odd-even policy. The city’s main thoroughfares now have wider sidewalks for pedestrians to encourage more people to get around by walking.

Joga said this would be the right moment to get more people walking from one point to another, reduce the use of private vehicles and increase the use of public transport.

“But we will need more expanded and walkable sidewalks for that. We can’t tell people to take public transport if there are no safe and comfortable sidewalks for people to walk on after they get off the buses,” he added.

“The city administration should continue revamping sidewalks in other parts of the city, and not just in the main thoroughfares for foreign visitors’ eyes,” he said.

Also noteworthy have been efforts to reduce the foul smell emanating from the Sentiong River – nicknamed Kali Item or Black River for its black, heavily polluted water – which is close to the athletes’ villages in Kemayoran, Central Jakarta.

The river was sprayed with an odour neutralizer in order to improve the atmosphere for the international athletes staying in the village.

“So apparently there is a technology to reduce the river’s pungent smell but we are only moved to use it just because we are hosting the games. Why didn’t we try to use it earlier?” Joga asked rhetorically.

“We should not stop here and instead use this event as a momentum to continue cleaning the river and make the city more livable even when the games are over,” Joga added.

Changes in the capital, in his view, could motivate other cities across the country to do the same to create a more livable environment for their residents.

What happens in the capital city reverberates all over Indonesia, he said, citing the news about the dismantling of a pedestrian bridge in downtown Jakarta and its replacement with a zebra crossing for pedestrians. President Joko Widodo tried out the crossing with Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan as news camera clicked away.

“It is only a few meters long but it generated nationwide publicity, even though the original aim of dismantling the bridge was more for aesthetic purposes instead of promoting walking as a means to get from one point to another,” he said.

The governor said the bridge was dismantled because it blocked people coming from the city’s north side to view the Selamat Datang statue, one of the city’s most famous landmarks.

“Let’s not stop making the city more civilised and amenable to modern living just after the games. It is time to view fixing the city’s problems with the perspective of a modern metropolis, instead of the perspective of a big village as we have been doing all this time,” Joga said,

The city has also built more sports venues to stage the games and rebuilt the outdated velodrome and equestrian park to meet modern, international standards.

Danny Buldansyah, the spokesman for the Indonesia Asian Games 2018 Organizing Committee (Inasgoc) said that despite the limited time available to prepare for an event as big and complex as the Asiad, Indonesia has managed to pull it off. The various sports competitions, which began on Aug 18, have been running smoothly so far with generally positive reviews from athletes, officials and spectators.

“We had to build more venues, such as hockey and volleyball stadiums, just three months prior to the games, because we had later confirmation of more participants in certain sports,” he said.

He acknowledged concerns about what will happen next to the venues for less popular sports such as the equestrian park and how to maintain them and keep them useful.

“They will be managed in a partnership with private entities for other commercial uses,” he said.

“We are also confident now that the equestrian park has met international standards, it could be hosting more international equestrian competitions in the future,” Buldansyah said.

According to him, Indonesia has experienced an influx of roughly 25 million people consisting of athletes, sports officials, VIPs and foreign journalists for the games in Jakarta and Palembang.

“We have more people visiting for the games compared to the number of people in the 2014 Asiad in Incheon. It is a sign of their trust in us to host the games,” he added.

JIEP Pulo Mas
Newly-renovated Jakarta International Equestrian Park in East Jakarta set to stage three competitions for the 18th Asian Games in Jakarta and Palembang. Photo: The Parrot/Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata

Muslim residents living within a one-kilometer radius from the equestrian park in East Jakarta had to adjust their Eid Al Adha festivities, which fell on Aug 22. The Eid Al Adha celebration is a time when Muslims donate cattle or goats for slaughter as sacrifice and the meat is donated to the poor.

An order passed by the governor in 2017 put a restriction on the seasonal trade of cattle within the area, and 35 mosques within the restricted zone are forbidden to slaughter the sacrificial animals, in compliance with the international regulation that the area within a kilometer from the equestrian park should be an equine disease free zone.

A caretaker at the Al Hurriyah mosque in Pulo Asem neighborhood near the park said congregation members were aware of the restriction and have complied to it by donating their animals to be sacrificed elsewhere.

”For many of us here, the Asian Games is a once in a lifetime event, so we don’t mind with this restriction because we want to take part in supporting the games,” Purnomo said.

The story was first published in Bangkok Post

Indonesia to allow tariff-free import of Palestinian dates, olive oil

Indonesia and Palestine have signed an agreement that will allow for zero tariffs on some Palestinian goods imported into Indonesia from next month.

The agreement serves as the implementing guidelines that follows the Memorandum of Understanding signed by Trade Minister Enggartiasto Lukita and his Palestinian counterpart on the sidelines of the 11th World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina, last December. The MoU allows zero import tariffs for certain goods between the two countries.

“It will be one-way trade from Palestine to Indonesia at the start, but we expect in the future it will be a two-way trade,” the Trade Ministry’s Director General for International Trade Negotiations Iman Pambagyo said.

The initial Palestinian products that will be exempted from import tariffs are fresh and dried dates and virgin olive oil. Pambagyo said that, during the first year of the agreement, dates imported from Palestine are estimated to increase by 11.62 percent, while olive oil is estimated to jump by 172 percent, as a lot of Indonesian cosmetic manufacturers use olive oil as an ingredient in their products.

“We will encourage our importers to benefit from this policy by sourcing their olive oil and dates from Palestine,” Pambagyo added.

Fachry Thaib, head of the Middle East Committee at the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce, said the business community welcomed the agreement and its upcoming implementation.

“We have always encouraged the government to expedite the MoU implementation. This policy would be beneficial for importers since it would make the products more competitive in the domestic market,” he said.

He added the policy will not hit other imported goods, given the big market opportunities for dates, which are widely consumed by Indonesians.

Lukita and Palestinian Ambassador to Indonesia Zuhair Al-Shun signed the agreement on Monday following the ratification of the MoU into a presidential regulation in April.

The finance minister will allow the MoU to fully take effect by issuing two ministerial regulations — on import tariff waivers for Palestinian products and on the technical direction for customs offices to execute the policy.

Pambagyo said these regulations will be circulated to all ports of entry so that customs officers can identify products from Palestine and exempt them from any import duties.

Lukita said this policy was part of Indonesia’s unwavering support for the Palestinian issue, which has always been the focus of its foreign policy.

Indonesia has been a staunch supporter of Palestinian independence and has pledged to focus on voicing support for Palestine during its tenure as a non-permanent member at the UN Security Council in 2019-2020.

Read the full story in Arab News

East Timor’s present and future leaders keep its ASEAN aspiration alive

Despite their political differences, outgoing and incoming leadership of East Timor said that its bid to become the 11th member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is a mutual goal that they continue to strive.

Outgoing Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri said East Timor’s ASEAN membership is “a very long dream.”

“This is one of the few things that is a consensus between the leadership of Timor Leste, despite the differences,” he said in an interview last month at a hotel near the headquarters of his Fretilin party.

IMG_1023
East Timor Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri with his wife Marina Ribeiro Alkatiri, daughter Nurima Ribeiro Alkatiri and son-in-law Machel Silveira, pose for a photograph after an interview on May 12, 2018. Photo: The Parrot/Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata

Alkatiri also described Indonesia as East Timor’s “biggest supporter” in its efforts to join ASEAN.

Indonesia was one of the regional bloc’s founding countries when it was established in 1967, and is regarded as its de facto leader. Indonesia endorsed East Timor’s ASEAN bid when it formally submitted its application in 2011 during Indonesia’s ASEAN chairmanship.

Alkatiri has been leading a short-lived, minority government and the party lost to a three-party coalition led by independence hero Xanana Gusmao’s National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) in the May 12 parliamentary election.

Gusmao, who is expected to nominate former president Taur Matan Ruak as the next prime minister this week, said East Timor is doing its best to become an ASEAN member.

“We understand some (member) countries think we are not ready, but sooner or later, we will be a member,” Gusmao said in an interview at his party CNRT headquarters.

Singapore, the current chair, has been reluctant to welcome East Timor into the bloc, but has said it looked forward to East Timor meeting the requirements to allow it to become a member.

So far, East Timor has met two of the requirements to be an ASEAN member: The country is located in Southeast Asia and has embassies in all 10 member states.

Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said after hosting an ASEAN leaders’ summit in April that the topic was discussed during the forum, but “there was no extended discussion of the matter in this meeting.”

Luis da Costa Ximenes, director of the Dili-based conflict-prevention NGO Belun said there is a different level of regional engagement with fellow civil society organizations in neighboring countries.

He added that members of the network have been lending support for each other in their advocacy on various issues such as human rights and development.

“There are national East Timor issues, such as illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing that is also a regional issue,” he said.

“Civil societies in East Timor is already part of the civil societies network in Southeast Asia and at this level, we always campaign for East Timor’s admission to ASEAN,” Ximenes said.

Veteran Thai journalist and long time ASEAN observer Kavi Chongkittavorn said it is Singapore that East Timor, which is one of the most democratic country in the region, has to convince to secure support for its ASEAN admission.

“East Timor membership in ASEAN is long overdue,” Kavi said, acknowledging that East Timor officials would still need capacity-building training and other preparations in the political security, economy and social cultural communities, as the other previous new members did before they gained admission to the bloc.

He added that East Timor’s admission to ASEAN is also about the democratic attitude in the region and Thailand, which will assume the next bloc chairmanship after Singapore, would admit East Timor for good.

“East Timor’s membership to ASEAN will increase the democratic weight within the grouping,” he said.

Read the full interview with East Timor’s outgoing Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri in Arab News

Plans for holy land tour in limbo as Israel imposes blanket ban on Indonesian visitors

Sally Piri’s plan to take her mother on a tour of the holy sites in the occupied West Bank this year may be put on hold after Israel’s recent move to ban Indonesian passport holders from entering the territory.

She had planned to go with her mother in November and has already paid for the tour, which includes visits to Bethlehem, Jericho, Nazareth and Caesarea, when she read the news that Israel had issued policy starting on June 10 that bans Indonesians to enter Israel.

jerusalem-88769_1280.jpg

“I really hope the policy will change so tourists like us who want to go on pilgrimage tours can still go. My travel agent told me they are still waiting for results of negotiations between their local partners and the authorities in Israel to have the policy revoked,” Sally said.

“My mother said she has been everywhere and now she just wants to go to the holy land,” she added.

Syuhelmaidi Syukur, a senior vice president of Jakarta-based humanitarian group Aksi Cepat Tanggap, said the ban will not disrupt the group’s humanitarian assistance for people in Palestine.

“We have rarely sent our own humanitarian workers there for the past two years, so we distribute our aid with the help of our local partners and fellow humanitarian groups in Gaza and Jerusalem,” he said.

Last week’s blanket ban for Indonesian tourists was, according to media reports, a tit-for-tat response to Indonesia’s decision to suspend visas already issued to Israeli citizens, suggesting that the visa cancellation was Indonesia’s response to the violence in Gaza in which Israeli soldiers killed dozens of Palestinians and injured thousands during recent protests to mark the Nakba.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said last week that Israel had been trying to reverse Indonesia’s decision but to no avail, which resulted in Israel reciprocating the move.

Indonesian Law and Human Rights Minister Yasonna Laoly confirmed on Friday that there were 53 Israeli nationals who had been denied visas to enter Indonesia.

“It was a clearing (house) decision that we have to carry out. We can’t disclose the reason because it’s a sensitive matter. It is our sovereign right to accept or reject visa (applications) from other countries,” Laoly told journalists at the Foreign Ministry.

Indonesia does not have diplomatic relations with Israel but an Israeli passport holder can still get an Indonesian visa through the “calling visa” mechanism which is available for citizens of nations with which Indonesia has no diplomatic relations.

The calling visa application is reviewed and granted by a clearing house which involves a number of government agencies with the Foreign Ministry at the lead, and the conditions applied to a calling visa holder are very restrictive.

Both Laoly and Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi denied there had been initial talks about diplomatic relations between Indonesia and Israel or the possibility of Indonesia granting free visas to Israeli nationals.

“Indonesia continues to be with Palestine in their struggle for independence and their rights. Our foreign policy to take sides with Palestine is very clear,” Marsudi said.

The story first appeared in Arab News

Saudi couple meet Indonesian maid they forgave for murder of their child

A Saudi couple from Tabuk have met the Indonesian domestic helper they pardoned after she was sentenced to death for murdering their 11-month-old child in 2009.

Ghalib Nasir Al-Hamri Al-Balawi and his wife arrived in Indonesia on May 3 for a week-long stay, which included a visit to Cirebon in West Java to meet Masamah bint Raswa Sanusi and her family.

“I didn’t seek for anything else by giving her pardon but God’s mercy,” Al-Balawi said through a translator during a press conference at the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Jakarta on Monday.

He said that he was very impressed with the hospitality showed by Indonesia during their first visit to the country.

Arief Hidayat, an official from the Foreign Ministry’s Directorate for Protection of Indonesian Citizens Abroad, said that the couple’s visit was facilitated by the Indonesian Consulate General in Jeddah in appreciation of the couple’s compassion and willingness to forgive Masamah.

“We took them to Cirebon by train and they were greeted by the acting Cirebon district head upon arrival,” Hidayat said, adding that they also took the couple to the safari park in Cisarua in the mountainous Puncak area, a popular destination for tourists from Middle Eastern countries.

Masamah’s lengthy trial began in 2009 after local authorities accused her of murdering Al-Balawi’s child after they found her fingerprints on the baby’s face.

Masamah has always maintained her innocence and said that she only rubbed the baby’s face after she found it unconscious. She was sentenced to five years in prison in 2014 but the district attorney appealed and she was sentenced to death in 2016.

During her appeal trial in March 2017, Al-Balawi pardoned her and decided not to demand blood money, but Masamah still had to serve the remaining two and a half years of her prison sentence.

She was released from prison in January and stayed at the consulate general’s shelter until she was cleared to leave and return to Indonesia in March.

Al-Balawi and his wife’s visit came after the execution of an Indonesian national who had been working as a driver, Muhammad Zaini Misrin on March 18 after a court has found him guilty of murdering his employer in 2005. The news of Misrin’s execution caused a national outrage.

The Indonesian government said they didn’t received notification prior to his execution and said that the execution was untimely as Misrin was undergoing another legal avenue to have his case reviewed.

Saudi ambassador to Indonesia, Osamah bin Mohammad Al-Shuaibi said the Saudi authorities had done their part to inform the Indonesian embassy about Misrin’s execution including a notification on the day of the execution before it was carried out.

“What we need to do now is inform those who want to visit Saudi Arabia about the law and that they have to follow the rules in Saudi Arabia. It is our duty to explain to them,” Al Shuaibi said.

“We have to respect the laws in our respective countries,” he added.

Hidayat said there are 20 Indonesians on death row in Saudi prisons and Indonesian officials in Saudi Arabia were making sure that their legal rights were met.

“But it would not annul the crimes that they committed,” he added.

This article has been expanded from its original version in Arab News

Indonesia rebuffs claims it issues tourist visas for Israelis

The Indonesian government said Sunday it was not issuing tourist visas for Israeli passport holders, debunking a report from an Israeli news outlet, which claimed that it was accepting applications for tourist visas from Israelis.

Agung Sampurno, a spokesman for the immigration department of Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, said that there was no tourist visa specifically for Israelis as Indonesia already has a free-visa policy for nationals from 169 countries to enter the country for tourist or leisure purposes.

Israel is not included on the list since Indonesia does not have diplomatic relations with Israel.

“Our visa policy has not change in accordance with our foreign policy,” Sampurno said.

Israeli news portal Haaretz.com reported on Thursday that Israelis could soon see the “gorgeous destinations” that they “could only see in the movies” by applying for a tourist visa to Indonesia beginning on May 1, and the report described the process as “expensive and lengthy.”

According to the report – which did not provide information from the Indonesian authorities – Israelis can apply for the visa through the “Israel Indonesia Agency” and that “talks are underway to let Israelis get their Indonesia visa in Israel.”

“The news report that said Indonesia was giving out tourist visas to Israel is a hoax” Sampurno said.

The agency’s website was still accessible on Friday but was no longer so on Sunday. According to the website, a single-entry visa costs applicants $135, with which they can stay for 30 days, and an extension for another 30 days will cost applicants $35.

According to the website, “in April 2018, the Ministry of Immigration of the Republic of Indonesia decided to open up a temporary visa quota for Israeli passports to travel to Indonesia under all foreign visa categories to determine the impact and potential of increased bilateral relations between the nations.”

It also featured pictures of a white sandy beach with turquoise blue water and a destination believed to be Raja Ampat, a cluster of 1,500 jungle-covered small islands known as a diver’s paradise and located on West Papua province on the eastern part of the Indonesian archipelago.

WhatsApp Image 2018-05-06 at 19.44.10.jpeg
Screenshots from the now-defunct Israel Indonesia Agency website, which claimed it offered assistance for Israeli passport holders to secure tourist visas to Indonesia.

“There is no such ‘Ministry of Immigration’ in Indonesia,” Sampurno said.

A statement from the Foreign Ministry said the Indonesian government institution in charge of any immigration issues is the Directorate General of Immigration, which is part of the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights.

“The Directorate General of Immigration of the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights of the Republic of Indonesia neither recognize nor has relations with Israel Indonesia Agency.”

The statement also said the information in the agency’s website was “wrong and misleading” and that the only way for Israeli passport holders to secure Indonesian visa was through the “calling visa” process.

Sampurno said the calling visa mechanism is available for citizens of nations with which Indonesia does not have diplomatic relations.

The decision to grant a calling visa involves a number of government agencies with the Foreign Ministry at the lead and the conditions applied to a calling visa holder are very restrictive.

“The visa holder’s whereabouts is limited to a certain place. For example, if the holder stated in the application the place would be in Jakarta, the visa holder can’t go further even to the suburbs of Jakarta and the visa holder can only enter Indonesia through Jakarta’s Soekarno Hatta airport,” Sampurno said.

“There will also be constant monitoring from the authorities to the calling visa holder,” he added.

The story was first published in Arab News

 

Indonesia to host Pakistani, Afghan scholars for peace conference

Indonesia will host a meeting of “ulema” (Islamic scholars) from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Indonesia on Thursday in an effort to support the Afghan peace process, the country’s Vice President Jusuf Kalla announced last week.

In a concluding speech at a three-day gathering of international Muslim scholars, Kalla said Indonesia could play a role in building peace in Afghanistan by hosting the meeting on May 11. It was scheduled to be held in March in Jakarta but was delayed after a call from the Taliban to boycott it.

“We hope to resolve the conflict in Afghanistan, we still have a problem there,” Kalla said at the vice presidential palace on May 3.

The plan to hold the meetings of the ulema from Indonesia, Pakistan and Afghanistan arose after a delegation from the Afghan High Peace Council led by its chairman Karim Khalili visited Indonesia in November. The council had asked Indonesia to support the peace process in Afghanistan through the ulema’s role.

The plan was further discussed when Kalla visited Kabul in late February to attend the Kabul Process conference, where he was the guest of honor.

“The people will listen to the ulema and they have trust in fatwas that the ulema issued,” Kalla said.

Afghan cleric Fazal Ghani Kakar, who was one of the participants in the conference, confirmed that the meeting will take place and that he has been invited to attend.

Kakar, who is the former chairman of Afghanistan’s Nahdlatul Ulama, said that the meeting would be timely because there was an urgent need to find resolution to the problem in Afghanistan, which he said was suffering from radicalism and extreme interpretation of Islam.

“The core issue will be how to build trust between the Afghan and Pakistan ulema because both sides have their own influence on the warring factions in Afghanistan,” Kakar told journalists at the palace.

“This will be the first round and we hope this will open the gate for further discussion,” Kakar said.

He said that he had high hopes for the meeting because “most of the extreme ideas are coming from the Pakistani side, so sitting with the Pakistani ulema is the first step together to reach a better solution.”

He also said there would be at least five ulema from Afghanistan attending, and ulema from the Taliban were expected to come because the political faction of the Taliban has expressed interest in joining the meeting.

“We are very thankful for Indonesia; it has always played its role in brokering peace within the country, and in neighboring countries. We are looking forward to this being a good step for Afghanistan,” Kakar said.

Riefqi Muna, a foreign policy researcher at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, said  there was a lot that Indonesia could share from its experience as a Muslim-majority country with a stable democracy that has had its own share of secessionist and communal conflicts.

“We are not going to lecture them, but there are best practices experiences that we can share, so it is necessary for Indonesia to take part in pushing for peace process in conflict-torn countries,” Muna said.

“Facilitating a place for conflicting parties to meet is a step to build peace and for conflict resolution,” he said.

The story was first published in Arab News