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11 March 2010

Australia’s travel alert upsets Indonesian president

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Indonesia's leader Thursday took a swipe at Australia's tough travel warnings as he urged business leaders to forge closer trade links between the two countries, reported AFP.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono made the comments a day after he reminded Australians that Indonesia was "more than a beach playground with coconut trees" in a landmark address to the country's parliament.

"In regard to our tourism relations, we only know that Indonesia is now one of the top 10 tourist destinations for Australia in spite of your government's advice against travelling to Indonesia," he told a business forum.

Australia's current advice urges travellers to reconsider their trip to Indonesia, citing a "very high threat of terrorist attack".

Three Australians died in last July's bomb attacks on two luxury Jakarta hotels, while another 88 were killed in the 2002 Bali blasts. In 2004, nine people died in a car-bomb attack on the country's embassy.

However, Indonesia has also enjoyed successes against Islamic militants, including Tuesday's killing of Bali bomber Dulmatin, one of the country's most wanted fugitives. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on Wednesday said the warning was assessed independently, while Foreign Minister Stephen Smith described it as being only "raised in passing" during official talks.

"The president and his government understand the reasons behind our travel advice," Smith told Sky News.

"But we ourselves have made the point (that) the advice is there for Australians to contemplate. Very many Australians take it into account and then exercise their judgement to travel."

Indonesia's resort island of Bali remains one of the top tourist destinations for Australians despite the 2002 blasts and further attacks in 2005.

Yudhoyono, who has been praised for steering Southeast Asia's biggest economy through the downturn with 4.5 percent growth last year, on Wednesday called for a "fair dinkum" partnership with Australia including more trade.

The countries, who have completed a feasibility study into a possible free trade agreement, enjoy two-way business of about $8.5 billion a year.

"Our economy is not only in good health, it is also in a good position to help restore the health of the global financial system," Yudhoyono told the forum in Sydney. "We in Indonesia are open-minded about possible new ways of enlarging and intensifying our bilateral trade," he added, citing food production, energy and infrastructure.

Yudhoyono is wrapping up a three-day visit during which he called for a new era of strategic partnership between the neighbours and became one of only a handful of foreign leaders to address parliament.


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