It is mystifying why several countries have sought to instil international fear over Bali since the last day of 2009, and have continued up until Wednesday this week to issue terror-alert travel advisories that are both misleading and false.
The Australian government, perplexingly, reissued its travel advice this week to include cautions about Nyepi, the annual Hindu Day of Silence, that falls on March 16. Quite why, we do not know. It is neither urgent nor entirely necessary.
The flurry of mysterious warnings stemmed from what has turned out to be a highly erroneous alert posted on the US embassy in Jakarta’s website on New Year’s Eve saying the mission had received a communication from the Bali Tourism Board that Bali Governor I Made Mangku Pastika had said: “There is an indication of an attack to Bali tonight.”
International news agencies and other foreign media outlets picked up the story, with the result that a night of year-end revelry in some major tourist areas of Bali was ruined as some people stayed away over fears of a terrorist strike.
Governor Pastika subsequently said he had issued no such warning, and had only ordered security forces to be on the usual holiday alert. This newspaper sought comment from the US embassy in Jakarta about the error, but it declined to elucidate. Other countries, such as Britain and Australia, issued their own alerts based on the embassy’s website posting.
The warning has turned out to be false. In our age of terrorism, and concerning an island that has twice been struck by deadly attacks, it is understandable why the Americans issued their alert. What is not comprehendible is why the warning, now disproven, remains on the embassy’s website. Up until Thursday this week, it was still available, and may continue to damage Bali’s image internationally.
By Wednesday this week, the Bali Hotels Association, which represents the island’s top hotels, had had enough. It’s newly appointed chairman, Jean-Charles Le Coz of the Nikko Bali, was forced to point out that Canberra’s latest – and clumsy, and ineptly reported by the Australian media – advisory was not to be seen as any sort of terror alert.
Le Coz said in a statement: “We are disappointed to read that this somehow normal information has been relayed in the Australian press as a ‘Travel Warning.’
He blasted the Australian government: “We can only deplore, as we have done so for the last couple of years, that the Australian travel warning system relays information that is often linked to hearsay, is not location-specific and most importantly that each time new information (regardless of its importance to security) is posted, it pops-up as a “change in travel warning” and every time replicating fears that are not founded.”
Bali has been through a tumultuous time in recent years; it now appears to be in a period of ascent once again. We must never become complacent, however, not least with our security measures. What can do without, though, are baseless alerts that spark panic – and remain on official websites long after the non-events.