Monday November 10, 2003

Malaysians in Riyadh safe

BY AUDREY EDWARDS AND CECIL FUNG

PUTRAJAYA: No Malaysians were affected in the Riyadh bombing and their safety in Saudi Arabia is assured, said Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar.
“There is no need for them to come back.
“The safety and security situation generally is under control in Saudi Arabia. This is an incident that does not affect Malaysia.
“No Malaysians live in that apartment building. They are very safe.
“Those who want to continue with their umrah and the haj are safe,” he told reporters last night during a breaking of fast gathering.
When asked whether Malaysia would follow the United States in closing its embassy in Riyadh, Syed Hamid said the Malaysian mission would remain open although the Government would be monitoring the situation closely, adding that there were 40 Malaysian staff there.
“Closing the embassy is not the answer.
“We must co-operate and support the Saudi government in their efforts to investigate and take the necessary action.
“The Americans have a different stand because they feel this is part of the anti-American sentiment around the world.
“We see this as being politically motivated or maybe it is to destabilise Saudi Arabia or threaten the Saudi government,” he added.
Syed Hamid also said that the incident was a sign that those responsible were “uneasy of the relationship between United States and West Asian countries.”
Malaysia was of the view that the bomb attack, taking place during the holy month of Ramadan, was “terrible” and did not benefit Muslims or Islam as a religion, he said.
Anuar Kasman, who is the counsellor and head of chancery of the Malaysian embassy in Saudi Arabia, said the attack occurred at a residential compound situated about 4km away from the embassy.
There are about 250 Malaysians residing in the Saudi capital, most of them working as nurses and others in banks, hotels, telecommunication companies and petroleum companies, he said in a telephone interview from Riyadh.
Despite the situation, Anuar said the embassy would not issue an evacuation order as shootings and bombings happened from time to time in the area.
“The last time the embassy issued an evacuation order was a week before the US-led invasion of Iraq,” he said.
Anuar added that embassy officials frequently visited Malaysians in various areas in Saudi Arabia as a way of staying in touch with them and ensure they were aware of the current situation there. “Just last Saturday, we visited 10 Malaysians who are residing in an isolated area 700km south of Riyadh,” he said.
In another telephone interview, Malaysian ambassador to Saudi Arabia Tan Sri Wan Mokhtar Wan Ahmad said the embassy would continue to remind Malaysians in the kingdom to exercise care and avoid crowded places, especially those frequented by westerners.