April 17, 2000

Castro pays surprise visit to Gus Dur

Suara Merdeka. Monday, April 17, 2000 English

HAVANA (JP): President Abdurrahman Wahid left Cuba for Tokyo on Friday, a few hours after his host counterpart Fidel Castro sprang a surprise with an unscheduled visit.

Castro paid a courtesy call on Abdurrahman, better known as Gus Dur, at the Indonesian leader's room at the Melia Hotel here.

"I was having a good time listening to a wayang narration from a cassette when Castro suddenly turned up on my door step," Abdurrahman told reporters afterward. Wayang is a Javanese shadow puppet show.

A meeting between the two presidents had earlier been arranged to take place after Abdurrahman's arrival on the eve of the summit opening on Tuesday. It was canceled, but no official explanation was available.

Abdurrahman's close confidant, foreign minister Alwi Shihab, who is accompanying the President, was barefoot during the 40-minute informal meeting on Friday. Abdurrahman himself forgot to wear his Muslim cap, the peci.

Castro's laughter was heard several times during the casual conversation with Abdurrahman, who is well-known for his jokes.

Abdurrahman said Castro took some time-out while he was presiding over the Group-77 Summit which was officially closed later in the day.

"He knew I was about to leave, so Castro spared his time to visit me," Abdurrahman said.

Underscoring the significance of the informal meeting, Alwi said Castro had an opportunity to receive five head of states and governments during the two-day summit and paid a courtesy call only to his Indonesian counterpart.

There were 47 heads of state and governments attending the summit.

During the impromptu meeting with Castro, Abdurrahman suggested that one of the summit attendants promote the results of the international event to the Northern countries. Castro agreed but said he was not the right person to do job.

"I proposed Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Muhammad and Castro approved," Abdurrahman said.

Abdurrahman likened Mahathir to the captain of a vessel of Southern hemisphere countries. Castro accepted Abdurrahman's choice saying that the developing countries were in need of "a leader who can swim".

On the occasion, Abdurrahman extended an invitation to Castro to visit Indonesia.

Asked whether he anticipated anger from the United States due to his trip to Cuba, Abdurrahman said he would make the superpower understand.

"If we wish to influence a person, it is better to make him or her understand our position," he said.

He admitted that he and U.S. President Bill Clinton had different views on certain things, but said they did not matter.

Abdurrahman and his entourage took off from Havana's Jose Marti airport aboard a Garuda Airbus 330 late on Friday, heading for Japan. After a stop- over in Vancouver for refueling, Abdurrahman is expected to arrive in Tokyo on Sunday morning.

A member of staff at the Indonesian Embassy in Washington D.C., Mahendra Siregar, denied rumors that the government chose Vancouver for the refueling stop after President Abdurrahman was denied entry into the United States because of his visit to Cuba.

Mahendra told Antara that Vancouver had been chosen before the President embarked on his nine-day overseas trip.

"The Indonesian Embassy never asked the U.S. to allow the presidential airplane to refuel in a city here. We just asked for an overfly permit, and it was approved," he said on Thursday.

The President has arranged a brief visit to Japan to visit the ailing former prime minister Keizo Obuchi and his successor Yoshiro Mori.

He will head for Hong Kong later on Sunday, when he is scheduled to address a seminar on Indonesia. After an overnight stay in the commercial territory, Abdurrahman will fly back home. (byg)

Copyright© 1996 SUARA MERDEKA



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