Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Tsunami aid : Indonesia restricts Aceh

Indonesia's army is to restrict relief workers from
reaching remoter parts of the tsunami-hit province of

The army said aid workers must now register to travel
outside the towns of Banda Aceh and Meulaboh, because it
could not guarantee safety elsewhere.

Correspondents say the army wants to re-establish
control over Aceh, where it has been battling separatist

Aceh, near the epicentre of the quake, was worst hit in
the natural disaster that has killed about 150,000

Everything is controlled by the military so it's
difficult to get out the true story Aceh rebel spokesman

The United Nations is hosting a meeting of donor
countries in Geneva to discuss how best to spend the
billions of dollars pledged around the world to help
victims of the tsunami.

One of the major concerns is to ensure that, in contrast
with previous catastrophes, all the money promised is
actually paid this time and reaches the people who need

Protecting aid

The head of the army, Endriartono Sutarto, admitted the
restrictions could slow down relief efforts.

ACEH: KEY FACTS Province on the north-western tip of
Sumatra Higher percentage of Muslims than other parts of
Indonesia Gam rebels have fought decades-long separatist
campaign Year-long military crackdown beginning in May
2003 weakened Gam, but failed to capture senior members

General Sutarto told the BBC the move was necessary
because he had to protect foreign aid workers.

He accused the separatist Free Aceh Movement (Gam) of
stealing aid, although aid agencies, who have been
travelling freely outside the main towns, have not
reported any problems.

Sofyan Dawood, a Gam spokesman in Aceh, told the BBC
that the authorities were trying to paint the rebels as
the black sheep, and stressed that Gam were Acehnese -
unlike some of the military in Aceh - and were keen to
support the aid effort.

Correspondents say the Indonesian government and the
military may be pursuing different policies on how to
handle Aceh following the tsunami.

Earlier, Indonesia's foreign minister told the BBC that
Jakarta had struck a "gentleman's agreement" with rebels
not to disrupt aid efforts.

Speaking on a visit to London, Foreign Minister Hassan
Wirajuda said he sensed an "optimism that both sides are
interested for reconciliation".

He said Jakarta had made contact with Gam, in a bid to
avoid clashes between Indonesian government troops and
rebels during the aid effort.

Before 26 December Aceh had been under emergency rule
and was closed both to aid agencies and the
international media.

In 2003, Indonesia's military launched an offensive
against the rebels, who are estimated to have lost more
than 2,000 men over the past two years.

Aid agencies will fear this new directive could increase
bureaucracy on the ground where local commanders have
immediate control, says the BBC's Christian Fraser in

Some minor skirmishes have been reported and both sides
have accused the other of using the tsunami as a pretext
for a renewed offensive, but the claims have not been
independently verified.

Correspondents do stress the pre-tsunami level of
hostility has not resumed.

In Sri Lanka, where Tamil Tiger separatists have also
fought a long-running battle for independence, hopes
that the tsunami might calm tensions have proved

Sri Lanka's President Chandrika Kumaratunga said on
Monday that she had advised UN Secretary General Kofi
Annan against visiting rebel-held areas in northern Sri
Lanka during a weekend visit to the country.

The Tigers have accused the central government in
Colombo of withholding aid from Tamil areas of the
country and using the disaster as a pretext for sending
government troops into Tamil-governed area.

A 20-year war civil war in Sri Lanka killed 64,000
before a ceasefire was brokered in 2002. The agreement
was faltering in the weeks before the tsunami struck Sri

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