SINGAPOREANS IN SYDNEY SAFE, STAYED AWAY FROM SIEGE AREA

SINGAPORE — From the window of his ninth-floor central Sydney office — which sits diagonally across from the Lindt cafe in Martin Place, the site of a tense ongoing hostage crisis — Singaporean Eric Yeo watched as the police cordoned off the area and armed officers swept in, with their weapons pointed at the cafe.

Like other Singaporeans living in the city, Mr Yeo kept a close eye on updates as the situation unfolded and took precautions to stay safe.

Staff at his company were told to head home yesterday afternoon.

Meanwhile, travel agencies here have received calls from travellers who had planned trips to Sydney, but received no cancellations.

Speaking to TODAY over the phone, Mr Yeo, 50, who has had coffee meetings at the popular cafe, said he was surprised by the siege.

“We thought it won’t happen because Australia is peaceful … (with) accommodating and generous people,” said the president of the Temasek Club (New South Wales) — a Sydney-based club for Singaporeans and those with an interest in the Singapore community in New South Wales.

However, he noted that several months earlier, there had been a warning that Martin Place was a target.

Another Singaporean who worked in the vicinity and wanted to be known only as Mr Wee said the police moved in swiftly to close the roads.

“Most of the buildings in the area have their security protocol activated, so everything is pretty all right,” said the 30-year-old, who works in the media industry.

University of Sydney undergraduate Rachel Cheong, 24, was within walking distance of the cafe. She saw scores of armed police evacuating the streets.

“Usually the city is a very busy place. When they were evacuating, it started to become very quiet … (and) people were just like freaking out … wondering what was happening,” Ms Cheong said.

Earlier in the day, Singaporeans in other parts of Sydney said they would avoid travelling to the city as a precaution.

Mr Subeer Dutt, 23, a University of New South Wales economics undergraduate, said he would be staying indoors for now.

“I will be on the lookout for police advisories and I’ll adjust my plans accordingly,” he added.

The situation in Sydney triggered memories of the 2008 Mumbai terror attack, where Singaporean lawyer Lo Hwei Yen was taken hostage and killed by militants who stormed the Oberoi Trident hotel where she was staying.

A Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) spokesman said as of noon yesterday, the ministry had not received any reports of Singaporeans affected by the hostage situation and that the Singapore High Commission in Canberra was in touch with the Australian authorities and contacting Singaporeans in Sydney who have e-registered with the MFA.

“The MFA would like to advise Singaporeans in Sydney to take the necessary precautions for their personal safety, heed the advice of the local authorities and monitor the developments closely.

“They should also e-register with the MFA, if they have not already done so,” said the spokesman, adding that the ministry was “deeply concerned about this disturbing development and (its) thoughts are with the hostages and their families”.

Four major travel agencies here — Dynasty Travel, CTC Travel, Chan Brothers Travel and SA Tours — have not reported cancellations of trips to Sydney.

Dynasty Travel received calls from fewer than 20 customers since the news broke yesterday morning, but none of its customers cancelled their trips, said its marketing communications director Alicia Seah.

About 250 customers of the agency are due to leave for various parts of Australia in the next fortnight, noted Ms Seah.

“We are continuously monitoring the situation and also in contact with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to get the most up-to-date information … (and) will amend and change our itinerary if (needed) during the tour as (the) safety of our customers is our top priority,” she added.

Chan Brothers Travel marketing communications head Jane Chang said more than 150 of the agency’s customers are currently in Sydney.

“We are getting in touch with our local tour managers on the ground in Sydney to inform them of the situation and to advise customers in Sydney to contact their relatives in Singapore and inform them of their travelling status, which remains unaffected to date,” she added.

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