Background: This letter was written by an NGO staffer based in Jakarta to her bosses in Bankok and Washington on being informed that they were considering not letting her return home after a conference in Australia.

(Some identifying details have been changed)

Thanks so much for your concern.

I understand that times are unsettling, and very much respect the fact that you are working to ensure the safety of your staff. I would, if I may, like to share my point of view.

For me terrorism is the act of using violence or the threat of violence to disrupt people's work and lives. I have faced it many times in my former life as a conflict reporter, and am always disappointed when it succeeds. I feel that our reaction in these situations shapes the future of international security. By running away from Indonesia because of threats from a marginal and ill-organised group of youngsters, we tar all of Indonesian society with one brush. We are seen as people who rush to save our precious white skins from a nation who are all closet fanatics. I know that it is difficult from the outside to make judgements about the potential seriousness of these threats, and that your job is to err on the side of caution in ensuring the security of your staff. In my opinion, the importance of these threats, and of the really rather routine "riots" in Jakarta, has been escalated by my friends in the press (with whom I speak daily) who have been told not to file any story unless it is related to Sept 11.

I personally believe that 99.997 percent of Indonesians are civilised people with a healthy respect for other people of all nationalities. And I believe that I am well placed to avoid the 0.003 percent. Firstly, I do not live in a foreign ghetto, nor frequent obvious "target" areas. I don't go to the American Club, the Embassy or McDonalds, and I work inside an obscure peripheral compound of the Indonesian health ministry. Secondly, I am a British citizen: my entry and exit permits and my work permit in Indonesia are all in my British passport. Thirdly, I have worked for many years as a reporter of conflict; for example I was the last foreign national in Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989. And if experience at staying safe isn't enough, I have also been trained for two weeks by Britain's SAS to recognise and avoid dangerous situations. I know that random events are possible, in Jakarta just as in New York City or Bangkok. But I am confident that I have the experience and the common sense to stay out of any predictable trouble.

I absolutely respect (this NGO's) sense of responsibility for its employees. In my case that is limited to a moral responsibility: the terms of my contract do not include health insurance, life insurance or any pension provisions, so there are no financial implications to any misadventure. And since I am on a UK passport, any financial implications of forced evacuation would be borne by the UK rather than the American taxpayer. I believe also that there are no legal implications. I feel strongly enough about the ethics of standing by one's colleagues to have enquired during my contract negotiations whether I would be bound by travel policy for US government employees in the event of "instability" (which as you are aware is a normal part of the Indonesian political landscape), and was informed that I would not.

I am aware that my experience as an organisational beast is limited, and I am trying my best to marry organisational needs with my most deeply-held personal principles. I do feel that the (XXX) project is already suffering from a profound sense of inequity. I understand the need to keep The Mission happy, but in the medium and long term the best way to keep The Mission happy is to have a successful programme, and the best way to have a successful programme is to do our utmost to maintain a happy, cohesive staff whose sense of purpose and dedication to the task at hand is shared by all employees, regardless of their skin colour or nationality. I believe it is important to stand with our colleagues in times of trouble, and I believe that I am not the only foreigner in ASA who holds this view.

Despite the turmoil in the world, the work of our colleagues in the Indonesian government and in our partner agencies continues. The entire second generation surveillance effort in Indonesia (a major priority for (XXX) and USAID alike) is in suspended animation pending the finalisation of a number of institutional arrangements. Ramadan is coming up, and unless we get these arrangements in place before it arrives, we risk a delay of several months in one of our core activities, thus jeopardising our RP3 goals for the entire financial year. I am therefore keen to get home and resume my work at the earliest safe opportunity.

In deference to your concerns, I will gladly defer my return to Jakarta for a few days, until the magnitude of the threat can be better assessed. I will remain in regular touch with my friends in the press and in the Indonesian military and foreign affairs establishments, as well as with Steve and my household staff (who, incidentally, report no activity in my part of town). The deadline for "reprisals" appears to have passed today without major incident. I know we are in an awkward situation, Neil, but I really hope that if that situation persists, I will be supported in my decision to return to Jakarta at the weekend.

Thanks again for your concern.

Best regards, ep