Indonesia seeks answer to why U.S. blocked military chief’s travel

JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesia on Monday said it was still awaiting a detailed explanation why the United States barred its military chief from travelling to the U.S., despite having a visa and an official invitation, although it had accepted an official apology.

On Saturday, armed forces commander General Gatot Nurmantyo was stopped from boarding an Emirates flight to the U.S., where he had been invited to attend a conference by the chairman of the U.S joint chiefs of staff, General Joseph F. Dunford Jr.

“We conveyed that we still await clarification, an explanation why this happened,” Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi told reporters after meeting the deputy U.S. ambassador in Jakarta on Monday.

“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.”

The U.S. embassy in Jakarta was not immediately available for comment.

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

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.

Marsudi said she had been assured that whatever the issue was, it had been resolved and the Indonesian military chief was now free to travel to the U.S.

It was not immediately clear whether Nurmantyo would attend the conference as scheduled on Oct. 23-24.

Nurmantyo has frequently courted controversy in Indonesia over his actions and what analysts perceive to be his political ambitions. He promotes the notion that Indonesia is besieged by “proxy wars” involving foreign states and even a renewed communist threat.

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.

Indonesia, the world’s biggest Muslim-majority country, generally enjoys good ties with the United States. But ties have sometimes been strained over American resource companies operating in Indonesia or alleged rights abuses involving Indonesia’s military.

(Reporting by Jakarta bureau; Writing by Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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