UAE opens special travel corridor to facilitate historic $22.9bn Indonesian trade deal

Emirati Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan (L) and Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi. (Agencies)
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Updated 31 July 2020

UAE opens special travel corridor to facilitate historic $22.9bn Indonesian trade deal

  • Agreement will allow essential travel for businesspeople, government officials, diplomats, in line with COVID-19 health protocols

JAKARTA: Indonesia and the UAE on Thursday announced the creation of a temporary travel corridor to allow business and diplomatic trips to take place in relation to one of the southeast Asian country’s biggest investment deals.

The agreement was reached by Indonesian Minister for Foreign Affairs Retno Marsudi and her Emirati counterpart, Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, on Wednesday evening.

During a visit to Abu Dhabi in January, Indonesian President Joko Widodo secured energy, infrastructure, and agriculture investments worth $22.9 billion in what has officially been described as the biggest trade deal in the country’s history.

“The safe travel corridor arrangement between Indonesia and the UAE is now in effect,” Marsudi said during a virtual press briefing. The minister added that travel would be allowed for essential businesspeople, government officials, and diplomats, in accordance with strict pre-departure and post-arrival health protocols to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

The UAE Ambassador to Indonesia, Abdullah Salem Obeid Al-Dhaheri, who also attended the media conference, said the Indonesian and UAE governments had felt it an urgent priority to provide an avenue for cooperation, despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In this regard, the two countries agreed to establish a bilateral temporary agreement to facilitate the easing of travel for business, economy, as well as diplomatic and official purposes,” he added.

Al-Dhaheri pointed out that the arrangement would not undermine mandatory public health and quarantine protocols related to the COVID-19 situation in both countries. He noted that through regular assessment and consultation with relevant stakeholders, the travel corridor might later be expanded to include tourists.

Achmad Rizal Purnama, director of Middle East affairs at Indonesia’s foreign ministry, said the travel corridor arrangement, a first for both countries, reflected the growing “trust and confidence” that had developed between the two nations following Widodo’s Abu Dhabi trip and Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan’s visit to Indonesia in July 2019.

The agreement would exempt travelers from the mandatory two-week quarantine, Purnama told Arab News, but they would be required to have a negative result from a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test for COVID-19 taken within 72 hours before departure.

“The arrangement is about ensuring that the travelers are in good health. We don’t want this pandemic to impede us in following up on the various agreements reached during the January visit and let the projects stall, which we hope would spur our economic recovery efforts,” he said.

The UAE had committed to investing $6.8 billion out of the total agreed spending package into Indonesia’s energy, logistics, port construction, mining, and agriculture sectors.

Widodo’s delegation also secured the Gulf state’s commitment to assist in establishing an Indonesian sovereign wealth fund, into which the UAE, the US International Development Finance Corporation, and Japan’s SoftBank would inject funding.

The fund would be used partly to finance the relocation of Indonesia’s capital from Jakarta to East Kalimantan province on the island of Borneo, which has been estimated will cost $33 billion of which Indonesia has said it could only afford 19 percent.


Afghan assembly approves release of 400 ‘hard-core’ Taliban prisoners

Updated 3 min 22 sec ago

Afghan assembly approves release of 400 ‘hard-core’ Taliban prisoners

  • Some 3,200 Afghan community leaders and politicians gathered to advise the government on whether the prisoners should be freed
KABUL: Afghanistan’s grand assembly, or Loya Jirga, on Sunday approved the release of 400 “hard-core” Taliban prisoners, paving the way for the beginning of peace talks aimed at ending more than 19 years of war.
“In order to remove an obstacle, allow the start of the peace process and an end of bloodshed, the Loya Jirga approves the release of 400 Taliban,” the assembly said in a resolution.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had convened the assembly in the capital Kabul, where some 3,200 Afghan community leaders and politicians gathered amid tight security and concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic to advise the government on whether the prisoners should be freed.
The Taliban militants had insisted they be released as a condition for entering peace talks with the government. With the release, the Afghan government will fulfil its pledge to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners.
Western diplomats said talks between the warring parties will start in Doha this week.
Deliberation around the release of last batch of Taliban prisoners, accused of conducting some of the bloodiest attacks across Afghanistan, had triggered outrage among civilians and rights groups who questioned the morality of the peace process.
But ahead of November elections, US President Donald Trump is determined to fulfil a major campaign promise of ending America’s longest war.
The drawdown will bring the number of US troops to “a number less than 5,000” by the end of November, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said in an interview broadcast on Saturday.
In a February pact allowing for the withdrawal of US troops, Washington and the Taliban agreed on the release of the Taliban prisoners as a condition for the talks with Kabul.