Jakarta (Reuters): Indonesia on Monday said it had made “urgent” requests for an explanation why the United States barred its military chief from traveling to the US, 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 US, despite having a visa and an official invitation to 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 US 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 US officials were “trying to coordinate with relevant authorities in the US to find out what really happened.”
US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis apologized for the incident to his Indonesian counterpart Ryamizard Ryacudu on the sidelines of an ASEAN meeting in the Philippines, and the two were photographed shaking hands.
“I can confirm that he did a pull-aside with the Indonesian minister and expressed regret and apologized for the inconvenience,” Captain Jeff Davis, a spokesman for Mattis, told Reuters.
In a statement, the US 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, who has made official visits to the US before, would attend the conference as scheduled on Monday and Tuesday.
Some Indonesians reacted indignantly to the incident, putting up banners around the capital calling for the US 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 US 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.