Despite apology, Indonesia asks why U.S. blocked military chief's travel

By Reuters/Kanupriya Kapoor   October 23, 2017 | 01:11 am PT
Despite apology, Indonesia asks why U.S. blocked military chief's travel
Indonesian military Chief Gatot Nurmantyo gesture as talks to reporters in Jakarta, Indonesia, January 5, 2017. Photo by Reuters/Beawiharta/File Photo
'We still await clarification, an explanation why this happened.'

Indonesia on Monday said it had made "urgent" requests for an explanation why the United States barred its military chief from traveling to the U.S., as anger simmered in the world's largest Muslim-majority country over the diplomatic incident.

Armed forces commander General Gatot Nurmantyo was stopped on Saturday from boarding an Emirates flight to the U.S., despite having a visa and an official invitation to attend a conference from his counterpart, the chairman of the U.S joint chiefs of staff, General Joseph F. Dunford Jr.

Foreign minister Retno Marsudi said she had accepted an official apology from the deputy U.S. ambassador in Jakarta, but still awaited a detailed explanation.

"We conveyed that we still await clarification, an explanation why this happened," Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi told reporters after meeting the U.S. envoy.

"There is a sense of urgency to this that we have conveyed to them," she said, adding that U.S. officials were "trying to coordinate with relevant authorities in the U.S. to find out what really happened."

In a statement, the U.S. embassy in Jakarta said, "This issue has been resolved. There is no restriction on General Gatot's travel and we look forward to welcoming (him) to the United States."

However, it was not immediately clear whether Nurmantyo would attend the conference as scheduled on Oct. 23 and 24.

Some Indonesians reacted indignantly to the incident, putting up banners around the capital calling for the U.S. ambassador to be expelled and for Americans to be "sent home".

Former Indonesian ambassador to the United States Dino Patti Djalal called for a stronger government reaction.

"The government should not be asking for a clarification, but rather conveying a protest to the U.S. side," he said on social network Twitter.

Indonesia generally enjoys good ties with the United States. But relations have sometimes been strained over American resource companies operating in Indonesia or alleged rights abuses involving Indonesia's military.

Nurmantyo has frequently courted controversy in Indonesia over what analysts perceive to be his political ambitions. He has been accused of whipping up nationalist sentiment by promoting the notion that Indonesia is besieged by "proxy wars" waged by foreign states looking to undermine the country.

This month, Indonesian President Joko Widodo said the armed forces should stay out of politics and ensure their loyalty was only to the state and the government - a statement many believed referred to Nurmantyo's actions.

Nurmantyo is due to retire next March and many expect him to run for vice president or even president in 2019.

On Sunday, Indonesian military spokesman Wuryanto said the Emirates airline had told Nurmantyo the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency would not allow him to enter U.S. territory.

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