Accessibility links

Breaking News

Indonesian Embassy Threat 'Probably Harmless'

These are front pages of major Indonesian papers carrying stories of suspicious package at Indonesia's Embassy in Australia
Australian police say a suspicious powder that forced the closure of the Indonesian embassy in Canberra is probably harmless. Officials believe the substance was sent to protest the conviction of an Australian woman, Schapelle Corby, for smuggling drugs into Bali.

The Indonesian Embassy in Canberra remained sealed off, although dozens of staff members who came into contact with the mysterious powder have been allowed to go home after undergoing decontamination.

None are said to be feeling any ill-effects from the white powder that was found Wednesday in a letter addressed to Ambassador Imron Cotan, who was not in the building at the time. There were fears the powder could contain harmful bacteria, such as anthrax.

Australian officials said Thursday that an initial examination of the substance suggests it does not contain any dangerous bacteria. More tests are being carried out.

Investigators also are analyzing a note sent with the powder. Written in the Indonesian language of Bahasa, it is said to be extremely abusive to the Indonesian people.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard calls the embassy scare a reckless, criminal act, even if tests prove the powder to be benign. The government links the incident to the case of Schapelle Corby. The 27-year-old Australian was convicted of drug smuggling by a court in Bali last week.

Mr. Howard said its is staggering to think that those sympathetic to Corby could target the Indonesian Embassy in such a heartless way. "Quite apart from the murderous criminality of doing something like this and the indifference and contempt for human life that it displays, it will not achieve the objective, it will have the opposite effect but this is a very serious development for our country," he said.

Corby's 20-year prison sentence has provoked a storm of protest here. Many Australians believe she is innocent and did not receive a fair trial.

The Indonesian judges ruled she was guilty of smuggling more than four kilograms of marijuana into Bali. Corby, who is appealing her sentence, insists the drugs were placed in her baggage without her knowledge.

There have been calls for an Australian boycott of Indonesia and even the cancellation of aid to Indonesian victims of the December tsunami. Since the verdict was handed down, Indonesian diplomats here have received numerous threats.

Australia is worried that its relationship with Indonesia, which has warmed considerably in recent months, could suffer as a result.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer is to appear on Indonesian television to express his dismay at the embassy scare.