For years, Greenpeace has been viewed with suspicion by Indonesian officials and some local hard-line groups who accused the international environmental group of being a “foreign agent” trying to wreak havoc in the country.
But on Friday, it was President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono himself who came to meet and greet Greenpeace activists aboard their iconic sailing vessel, the Rainbow Warrior, which was moored at Tanjung Priok Port in North Jakarta.
The President called Greenpeace a “partner” in the country’s efforts to protect the environment.
“[Please do] criticize Indonesia over the things the country has to improve, and advise us how to maintain the environment. If Indonesia does good things, do not forget to tell the world that Indonesia has a strong commitment to protecting the environment,” Yudhoyono said, adding that he had asked Greenpeace to remain a partner of Indonesia.
Greenpeace, which has always been critical of the government, was more supportive of Yudhoyono during the meeting.
Greenpeace International executive director Kumi Naidoo said he hoped that Yudhoyono’s presence on board would be a symbol of environmental protection leading to greater protection for Indonesia’s incredible natural heritage.
“The President should be congratulated on the progress his government has made on forest protection since our first meeting last year,” Naidoo said. “There is still crucial work to be done but we at Greenpeace can assure him that we will do whatever we can to support Indonesia’s commitment to zero deforestation.”
While the meeting could boost Yudhoyono’s standing as a champion of green policies, it may also help Greenpeace’s operations in the country, which have been marred by several incidents.
In 2011, Greenpeace UK executive director John Sauven was denied entry into Indonesia at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, even though Sauven held an official visa issued by the Indonesian Embassy in London. A few days later, immigration officials tried to deport British Greenpeace campaigner Andrew Ross Tait.
In the same year, the Jakarta administration threatened to seal the organization’s office in Kemang, South Jakarta, for allegedly violating building regulations. In mid-2012, after months of intimidation from a hard-line group as well as opposition from residents living nearby, Greenpeace finally abandoned its headquarters in Kemang and moved to Tebet, South Jakarta. The protesters accused Greenpeace Indonesia of breaching regulations by accepting donations from gambling operations.
In a meeting with Naidoo in Jakarta on June 7 last year, Yudhoyono accepted Naidoo’s invitation to visit the ship; a far cry from 2010, when the Rainbow Warrior was escorted out of Indonesian waters after the government refused to let the ship dock in Jakarta. Yudhoyono said at that time that Greenpeace was a credible organization that played a major role in seeking environmental solutions through its criticisms and effort, pointing out that both of them “shared a similar dream”.
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