Indonesia voices opposition to U.S. war to oust Hussein

Foreign minister supports U.N. effort to find arms

January 09, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

JAKARTA, Indonesia - Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, is opposed to military action to topple Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, the foreign minister said yesterday.

The minister, Hassan Wirajuda, said that "regime change" through military intervention "would be difficult to accept."

Instead, he said that Indonesia supported "every effort on the disarmament of weapons of mass destruction through the United Nations Security Council."

Indonesian government officials, preoccupied by the aftermath of the Bali attack in October and the threat of terrorism at home, have said little about Iraq.

Western diplomats said there had been no expectation that Indonesia would support intervention against Iraq.

The hope, said one diplomat, was to persuade the government to keep its statements on Iraq as moderate as possible.

The minister's comments, made as part of a presentation to the media on Indonesia's foreign policy in the past year, were low-key and stressed the importance of the United Nations.

But they appeared to reflect an unease among some Indonesian officials at the prospect of widespread anti-American protests in the event of a war against Iraq.

The minister for political and security affairs, Gen. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, has warned publicly that a United States-led war against Iraq would spark anti-American demonstrations.

An American expert on Indonesian Islam, Dr. Robin Bush, told the American Chamber of Commerce this week that foreign businesses should be prepared for protests if war started.

"Be prepared for the fact it will be messy," said Bush, who heads the Islam and civil society program at the Asia Foundation. "How bad it will be will depend on the level of international consensus" for the war, she said.

Western diplomats said that the level of unrest in Indonesia would depend on a number of variables, including the extent of Iraqi civilian casualties and the reaction of the Iraqi population to the war.

The Bush administration ordered all dependents of American diplomats and non-essential American employees at the United States embassy to leave Indonesia soon after the Bali attack.

In several reviews since the evacuation, the State Department has decided that Indonesia remained too unsafe for the return of the employees or their dependents, administration officials said. The timing of their return was still under review, they said.

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