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Indonesia Transport Minister Deflects Responsibility for Air Safety Worries

After two recent air disasters in Indonesia, the country's transportation minister is fighting off calls for his resignation and implementing new safety measures. Chad Bouchard reports for VOA from Jakarta.

Indonesian Transportation Minister Hatta Radjasa defended the country's safety initiatives during a lunch with the Jakarta Foreign Correspondents' Club Tuesday. He says enforcement has been stepped up after the recent disasters.

An Adam Air aircraft carrying 102 people disappeared on January 1. In March, a plane operated by the national carrier, Garuda Airlines, overshot a runway and burst into flames, killing 21 people.

Families of the victims have complained that the progress of the investigation into the March accident is too slow, but Radjasa said the investigation was not under his direct supervision.

A recent audit of the country's 54 airlines indicated that none of the carriers passed standards for maintenance and safety. Critics have pointed to a low level of enforcement of the laws that exist.

Hatta Radjasa defended his position.

"So many journalists ask me, will you resign because of so many accidents here? I said this to the president: I'm ready any time, whatever the decision has to be followed," he said. "So resign for me, is just up to the president. But for me it's not just whether I resign or not, but what is the roadmap to strengthen the safety. That's very important and critical."

Radjasa pledged to implement several safety upgrades over the next few years, including lengthening runways to meet international standards, and providing full navigation radar coverage by 2009.

He added that the national transportation budget was to be increased by 50 percent next year, which would provide an additional $400 million to implement improvements.

He says sanctions have already been handed down against pilots who violate safety regulations.

"The last six months, I think we already grounded - it's more than 10, more than 10," he said. "We got also a complaint from the operators because of the lack of the pilots. Because we give penalties and also the sanctions to the pilots to ground the pilots."

As a further reflection of increasing concern over Indonesia's transportation safety record, the U.S. embassy in Jakarta on Tuesday warned its citizens not to fly on Indonesian airlines, saying that recent air disasters raise questions about the safety practices of Indonesia air carriers.