Indonesia to evacuate 62 citizens from Syria on June 17
The government will evacuate 62 Indonesians from conflict-torn Syria on June 17, says Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa.
“Currently, there are a total of 115 Indonesians in a shelter in Damascus. In the first phase, we will repatriate 62 of them,” the minister said during a press conference on Wednesday.
He said security issues and changes in contact numbers and addresses had made it difficult to gather all Indonesians living in Syria. “Therefore, we really appreciate initiatives to establish networks and shelters so that we can complete our data [on Indonesians in Syria],” Marty said.
The ministry itself, he said, had established three shelters in Damascus, Allepo and Latakia, an area of profound importance to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Latakia province is the heartland of the Alawite minority to which Assad and the ruling elite belong.
Marty further announced that his ministry had sent six envoys to Syria to help with the evacuation process. The Foreign Ministry issued a travel warning to Indonesians going to Syria due to the escalating conflict in the Middle Eastern country that has killed hundreds.
The ministry, according to Marty, was also dealing with 34 Indonesian migrant workers who were still bound by their contracts.
Asked about whether two Indonesians had been killed in the ongoing violence in the country, Marty said he had yet to find any evidence that could confirm the news. “We are still investigating this story. We are communicating with hospitals, police officials and other relevant authorities in Syria,” he said.
According to data from the Indonesian Embassy in Damascus, five Indonesian nationals died in Syria in 2012. None of these deaths were due to violence, but were rather caused by diseases and accidents.
Violence has escalated significantly in recent days as the Syrian government fights to reassert control over pockets of resistance to the regime of Assad across the country.
According to UN Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Herve Ladsous, the 15-month uprising in Syria has grown into a full-scale civil war where Assad’s forces are trying to recapture swathes of urban territory lost to rebels.
“Yes, I think we can say that,” Ladsous said when asked if the Syrian crisis could now be characterized as a civil war.
“Clearly, what is happening is that the government of Syria lost some large chunks of territory in several cities to the opposition and wants to retake control of these areas,” he said as quoted by Reuters.
His remarks, the first time a senior UN official has declared Syria’s conflict a civil war, came as the United States said Russia might be sending attack helicopters to Syria.
The International Red Cross said the situation was deteriorating in several parts of Syria simultaneously as fighting intensifies.
Many hundreds of people, including civilians, rebels and members of Assad’s army and security forces, have been killed since a cease-fire deal brokered by international mediator Kofi Annan two months ago was supposed to halt the bloodshed.
“Now we have confirmed reports of not only of the use of tanks and artillery but also attack helicopters,” Ladsous said in an interview with Reuters and one other reporter. “This is really becoming large scale.”
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Washington was worried Russia may be sending Syria attack helicopters and dismissed Moscow’s argument that its arms transfers to Syria are unrelated to the conflict there.
“We have confronted the Russians about stopping their continued arms shipments to Syria. They have, from time to time, said that we shouldn’t worry — everything they are shipping is unrelated to their [the Syrian government’s] actions internally,” Clinton said, addressing a forum in Washington.
“That’s patently untrue.”
United Nations observers overseeing Annan’s cease-fire deal were turned back from the town of Haffeh on Tuesday by angry crowds throwing stones and metal rods. As they left, three of their vehicles were fired on, although the monitors were unhurt.
The monitors have been trying since Thursday to visit Haffeh where activists say the army had been battling rebels and the United States has warned of another potential massacre.
The rebel Free Syrian Army said it withdrew from the Sunni Muslim town later on Tuesday under pressure from bombardment by Assad’s forces, leaving thousands of civilians without protection.
Activists say Syria’s army and pro-Assad militias have committed two mass killings in the last three weeks, in the Houla region and the farming hamlet of Mazraat al-Qubeir. Syrian authorities blamed the killings on “terrorists”.
The killings have hardened sectarian divisions between the mostly Sunni Muslim rebels and supporters of Assad — from the country’s Alawite minority — in a conflict whose dynamics are also shifting as rebels become increasingly well-armed.