Indonesian military chief plays down furore over US ban

US authorities apologise for denying him entry, promise no repeat of such an incident

Indonesian armed forces chief General Gatot Nurmantyo yesterday sought to play down the brouhaha over his US travel ban, saying the situation will be resolved by the Foreign Ministry.

Gen Gatot said he has no plans to make a trip to Washington, even though he has been cleared to fly by the American authorities.

"My planned trip to the US was based on an order from the President, therefore I represent the government," said the general at the Presidential Palace after an unrelated event.

"I only would go based on the President's order, without that I have no plans whatsoever."

The general's comments follow a statement from the US Department of Homeland Security on Monday, claiming the issue with his boarding approval was resolved and that he was rebooked on another flight and cleared to board, but chose not to travel.

"The US government is dedicated to ensuring that all persons travelling to the United States are screened and properly vetted. We regret that the passenger and his wife were inconvenienced," said the agency.

When asked by reporters to shed more light on the issue, Gen Gatot would only say that the US and Indonesia have friendly relations.

'WE ARE GOOD FRIENDS'

Yes, I am disappointed. Why? General Dunford and I are good friends. When I was there the last time, we had coffee in the morning at his home and in the evening we were invited to a dinner, had good steak, and what was more impressive was that American soldiers sung our Indonesian folk song Bengawan Solo. I had expected to meet him again.

GENERAL GATOT NURMANTYO, on his relationship with General Joseph Dunford.

He instead referred the media to Indonesia's Foreign Ministry.

"Let's monitor what (the Foreign Ministry) is doing, see what the solution would be, we (the armed forces and parties outside the Foreign Ministry) should not be making our own separate move on this," he added.

News broke over the weekend that Gen Gatot had been blocked from travelling to the US on Saturday for a conference, despite having been invited by General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Several US officials have apologised for the incident over the last three days, including Defence Secretary James Mattis, who on Monday guaranteed his Indonesian counterpart Ryamizard Ryacudu that such an incident would not be repeated.

According to The Jakarta Post, Mr Mattis apologised to Mr Ryamizard at a closed-door meeting in the Philippine city of Clark, where the Asean Defence Ministers' Meeting is being held.

US Deputy Ambassador to Indonesia Erin Elizabeth McKee also said on Monday that there are no travel restrictions on Gen Gatot and that the US Embassy is "working very hard to understand what transpired in this incident, and we hope that it will not happen again".

Ms McKee was speaking to the media after she was summoned to the Indonesian Foreign Ministry in Jakarta and met Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi.

When asked if he was disappointed with the situation, Gen Gatot replied: "Yes, I am disappointed. Why? General Dunford and I are good friends.

"When I was there the last time, we had coffee in the morning at his home and in the evening we were invited to a dinner, had good steak, and what was more impressive was that American soldiers sung our Indonesian folk song Bengawan Solo.

"I had expected to meet him again."

The two countries have enjoyed strong bilateral relations, especially after the US lifted an arms embargo stretching from the 1991 conflict in then-East Timor to the start of former president George W. Bush's second term in 2005.

Earlier yesterday, a small group from Jaringan Aktivis Nasional, or the National Activists Network, protested outside the US Embassy in Jakarta over the incident.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 25, 2017, with the headline 'Indonesian military chief plays down furore over US ban'. Print Edition | Subscribe