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"Biological agent" sent to envoy

P. S. Suryanarayana

SINGAPORE: Australian Prime Minister John Howard on Wednesday expressed apologies to Indonesia over a "very serious criminal act" that was possibly an episode of biological terrorism and which apparently involved one or more Australians.

A "biological agent" was anonymously sent, in the form of powder, to the Indonesian Ambassador in Canberra, in an overall atmosphere that was surcharged with considerable anger and frustration among Australians over the latest conviction and sentencing of one of their compatriots, Schapelle Corby, by an Indonesian court in a drug trafficking case.

Mr. Howard told journalists in Canberra that Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who was informed of Australia's "concern" and apology, "understands how aghast we are at this development".

Asked whether the episode was an act of terrorism, Mr. Howard said "it is an act with reckless indifference to human life" especially if the preliminary analysis of the suspected "biological agent" in question "proves correct" in the sense that the substance was "not benign" at all.

Making it clear that such action would not be of any help in the Corby case, Mr. Howard said the incident might "do great damage" to Australia's ties with Indonesia at a time when these appeared to be looking up.

He described the episode as "deeply distressing", "quite appalling" and "pretty disastrous".

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