Jakarta snub shakes US relations 

Indonesian and U.S. Army paratroopers bump fists in a show of friendship prior to the opening ceremony of Garuda Shield 2013, June 10, at the Tentara Nasional Indonesia Angkatan Darat (Indonesian Army) 1st Infantry Division Headquarters in West Java, Indonesia. This year’s Garuda Shield brings together TNI-AD paratroopers with the division’s 17th Airborne Brigade and the U.S. Army’s 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod)

Washington has apologised to the chief of Indonesia’s military after he was denied entry to the country at the weekend, despite having an invitation from the chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff.

But Indonesia said the apology did not go far enough.

General Joseph Dunford invited General Gatot Nurmantyo to Washington to attend a conference on combating violent extremism.

Shortly before takeoff from Jakarta the delegation received notice from US Customs and Border Protection that they were not permitted entry.

US Department of Homeland Security spokesman Dave Lapan said Gatot was unable to fly due to delays arising from “US security protocols”. The issue with his boarding approval was quickly resolved by the US and he was rebooked on another flight but chose not to travel, Lapan said.

Indonesia’s military has a poor human rights record, but Nurmantyo has not been personally accused of abuses.

“We deeply regret the inconvenience that this incident caused and we apologise,” said Erin Elizabeth McKee, deputy US ambassador to Indonesia.

After meeting McKee, Marsudi clearly remained unsatisfied: “This issue is very important and we are trying to continue to insist that the US immediately give an explanation.

“I’ve said that it was not enough. We still need an explanation of why the incident happened,” she told reporters.

Nurmantyo visited the US in February last year.

“General Gatot is able to travel, there are no restrictions and the United States welcomes his participation in the conference that General Dunford invited him to and there are absolutely no issues with his ability to travel to the United States,” McKee said.

“The embassy is working very hard to understand what transpired around this incident and we hope that it will not happen again.”

Yohanes Sulaiman, a defence scholar at Ahmad Dhani University, said the blunder was being seen as an affront to Indonesia. “If it was is an administrative error or something else, they have to say it, otherwise it will have problems in the long run.

“Also the United States has just released all those files about from the 1960s,” he added, referring to the publication of numerous diplomatic cables last week detailing US knowledge of the slaughter of alleged communists in Indonesia between 1965-66.

Without a proper explanation from Washington, it has been suggested Gatot may try to exploit the snub by appealing to widespread nationalistic sentiment to bolster any potential political career.


Singapore does not want to see more congestion. Picture credit: US Defence Archive