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NEWS UPDATES Asean Affairs        3  June 2011

British embassy staff in Jakarta evacuate

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The British embassy has evacuated its downtown premises over security concerns, after the Jakarta city government ordered anti-terrorist vehicle barriers to be removed from an adjoining road.

Embassy spokesman Faye Belnis said that with the barriers gone, Britain's Foreign Office decided that there was not enough stand-off room to guarantee the mission's security.

All of its staff have now moved to an office building just beside the embassy grounds. They are likely to remain there until the mission's new building in Kuningan, South Jakarta, is ready around mid-2013. Belnis said officials are still talking to the city government and Foreign Ministry to see if the security issue can be resolved.

The move reflects the high level of alertness held by the Jakarta-based diplomatic corps, especially after a string of high-profile terrorist attacks in the last decade. Westerners were targeted in the 2002 Bali bombing and 2009 attacks on the Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels in Jakarta.

Australia is also moving its embassy, seven years after it was targeted in a car bomb attack that killed 10 people.

The barriers outside the British embassy are now located along a 100m stretch of the road leading to its entrance, and are essentially boom gates that have to be raised by security guards to allow cars to pass. When they are removed, vehicles will be able to get close to the embassy's main entrance without being checked.

The Straits Times understands that the owner of a small golf centre next to the embassy had complained that the gates were bothersome for his patrons. Residents living along the same road had also earlier protested against the roadblocks, reported the Jakarta Post.

Tucked in a corner of the upscale Menteng neighborhood, the three-story British embassy complex overlooks the Hotel Indonesia traffic circle, one of Jakarta's busiest intersections and the site of frequent peaceful protests.

It is one of the diplomatic missions in Indonesia with the strictest security measures.

The United States embassy, for instance, is protected by fortress-like security, including a thick blast-proof fence and anti-truck bomb barriers disguised as large flower tubs.

After the 2004 attack, the Australian government also spent around A$11 million (S$14.4 million) reinforcing its embassy's security, adding a blast-proof perimeter fence and other measures. Its new A$410 million compound, which will be ready in 2015, is located near the new British embassy.

At the Singapore embassy, visitors seeking consular services are told to check in their bags at the security area.

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It is commonplace in journalism to write two types of articles at the transition point between the year that has passed and the New Year. As this writer qualifies as an “old hand” in observing Thailand with a track record dating back 14 years, it is time take a shot at what may unfold in Thailand in 2011.

The first issue that can’t be answered is the health of Thailand’s beloved King Bhumibol, who is now 83 years old. He is the world's longest reigning monarch, but elaborate birthday celebrations in December failed to mask concern over his health. More


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