Indonesia damage raises tourism worries

Prambanan, Indonesia (Antara News) - Damage to some of Java's cultural treasures in the Indonesian earthquake has raised fears about long-term effects on the local economy, which depends heavily on tourism.

At the spectacular temple complex at Prambanan, giant concrete blocks and
fragments of intricately carved statues litter the ground. One entrance is in ruins and entirely blocked by debris.

"We can't touch anything. The curators want to be able to thoroughly check everything," Basori, a guard at the site, the largest Hindu compound in Indonesia, was quoted as saying by AFP.

The ninth and 10th century temples -- dedicated to the Hindu gods Shiva,
Vishnu and Brahma -- are located about 20 kilometers (10 miles) east of
Yogyakarta, the main city in the quake zone.

Prambanan, like the nearby Borobudur temple compound, is one of the premier tourist attractions in Central Java, drawing some 1.5 million visitors a year, according to the provincial tourism office.

Borobodur, a lotus-shaped Buddhist compound built between 750 and 850 AD
that was restored to its former splendor in the 1970s, attracts twice as many.

"About 20 percent of the local economy comes from tourism," said tourism
office head Condroyono, emphasizing the importance of both the UNESCO-classified World Heritage sites.

"I don't know how long it will take for people to come back, but there will be significant material losses," he said.

While the Borobudur complex emerged unscathed, other smaller sites suffered significant damage.

The nearby ninth-century Buddhist temple at Plaosan, the top of the main
building was in ruins, and pathways were cluttered with debris.

The open-air public baths that were once the playground for the Sultan of
Yogyakarta's harem have also been closed to the public. Several buildings
around the site have been reduced to rubble.

Residents who run the souvenir stands -- some of whom lost their homes in
the quake -- worry that the longer the Tamansari baths remains closed, the more they will suffer.

Local authorities say they must ensure the security of the sites and assess restoration needs before allowing tourists to return.

"We must have the curators come to verify the temples" to assess the extent of the damage, said Condroyono.

Meanwhile souvenir merchants are out of work and tour guides are waiting
anxiously to hear if foreign groups will cancel their bookings.

Not to make any changes

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Tourism Minister Jero Wacik toured
Prambanan on Tuesday, pledging that the site would be properly restored.

"We will try not to make any changes to the architectural structure," he
said.

Wacik said he would ensure that hotels were safe. He acknowledged there
would "be some losses" but expressed optimism that the tourism industry would eventually bounce back.

"Yogyakarta is one of our top destinations because of the people, the
culture, the traditions, the spirit," he said.

"This has not been disturbed by the earthquake. But as with any trauma, it takes time to return to a normal situation." (*)
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