Thursday, January 13, 2005

Tsunami : Indonesia reluctant to foreign aid while logistics don't work

The French helicopter-carrier Jeanne D'Arc to reach on
Friday northern Indonesia on a mission to deliver
humanitarian aid to the tsunami-hit town of Meulaboh.

Helicopter pilots on the ship were busy training
Tuesday, hauling medicines and other aid into the air
and suspending them above the bridge while soldiers
sorted the supplies and stacked them in a nearby hangar.

The Jeanne D'Arc left Djibouti earlier Tuesday with six
helicopters and 600 crew to transport 6,000 food
rations, 800 tonnes of water and water treatment
equipment, five tonnes of medicine and field medical

Until Tuesday, Meulaboh had only been reachable by air
or sea as most major roads to the town have been washed
away. Ships from the Indonesian, US and Singapore navies
have brought in supplies while helicopters have made

"The tension will certainly mount before our arrival in
the (disaster) zone, but, for now, we are trying to make
the best of the time we have left to prepare," said an
officer on the ship after it left the French military

The Jeanne D'Arc had already participated in
humanitarian operations, in particular last year in
Haiti, but it had never undertaken an operation of this
magnitude, he added.

"The Indonesian authorities estimate that only 30,000 to
40,000 of Meulaboh's 100,000-strong population are
left," said Christophe Bergey, the ship's press officer.

With an accompanying frigate, Georges Leygues, the
Jeanne D'Arc can produce 50 tonnes of drinking water
each day in addition to its own requirements.

Its medical setup includes an operating bloc, two
intensive care beds and two hospital beds. A total of 20
doctors and a dozen nurses were making the voyage.

The final destination of the Jeanne D'Arc was still
being discussed with the United States and the
Indonesian authorities, but it was expected to drop
anchor off the northern coast of Sumatra between the
towns of Meulaboh and Banda Aceh some time on Friday.

"We will position ourselves between ten and twenty
nautical miles (18.5 to 37 kilometres)" off the coast,
said the captain of the helicopter-carrier, Marc de

As the nearest refuelling points were Banda Aceh and
Medan, some 200 kilometres apart, the helicopter carrier
could also serve as a fuel station for the fleet of
helicopters delivering relief, the captain added.

The first major convoy of aid trucks reached Meulaboh
Tuesday, more than two weeks after it was almost
completely cut off by the tsunami disaster, which killed
an estimated 28,000 people there when waves swept

In the same time, the U.S. military faced tighter
restrictions Wednesday as the Indonesian government
sought to reassert control over foreign troops, relief
workers and journalists in the tsunami-devastated
region, which also has been the site of a rebel

The moves by the Indonesian government, aimed primarily
at U.S. troops, underscore the nationalistic country’s
sensitivities at having foreign military forces
operating there — even in a humanitarian effort. They
also come amid warnings from the Indonesian military
that areas of tsunami-battered Aceh province may not be
safe for aid workers.

Hundreds of from troops from France, Australia,
Singapore, Germany and other nations are also prepared
to help the relief mission. The Indonesian military is
providing security for all of them.

The aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, which is
leading the U.S. military’s relief effort, steamed out
of Indonesian waters Wednesday because the U.S. Navy
only has permission from the Indonesians to fly aircraft
into its airspace that are directly supporting the
humanitarian operation, said Lt. Cmdr. John M. Daniels,
spokesman for the Lincoln carrier strike group.
Helicopters will still deliver aid to Sumatra’s
devastated coast, however.

Indonesia declined to let the ship’s fighter pilots use
its airspace for training missions. Under U.S. Navy
rules, pilots of carrier-based warplanes cannot go
longer than 14 days without flying or their skills are
considered to have degraded too far.

Since the Abraham Lincoln has been stationed off Sumatra
since Jan. 1, the carrier moved out of Indonesian waters
so its pilots could conduct their training flights in
international airspace.

Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla said foreign
troops would be out of the country by March 31.

"A three-month period is enough, even the sooner the
better," Kalla said.

The government also ordered aid workers and journalists
to declare travel plans or face expulsion from Aceh as
authorities moved to reassert control of the
rebellion-wracked area. The White House said Wednesday
it has asked the Indonesian government to explain the
restrictions on aid workers and journalists.

"We’ll seek further clarification from Indonesia about
what this means," White House spokesman Scott McClellan.
"We hope that the government of Indonesia and the
military in Indonesia will continue the strong support
they have provided to the international relief efforts
so far."

Financial :

At a Paris meeting Wednesday, a French official said the
world’s wealthiest nations, including the United States,
believe a temporary suspension of billions of dollars in
debt repayments by tsunami-devastated countries will
provide a necessary "breath of oxygen" for recovery and
reconstruction from the disaster that killed more than
150,000 people across southern Asia.

While three debtor countries — Indonesia, Sri Lanka and
the Seychelles — support the moratorium, Thailand does
not because it fears the potential effect on its
standing in international financial markets, French
Finance Minister Herve Gaymard told French radio.

The proposed moratorium on debt repayments by
tsunami-hit countries "was very quickly accepted" by the
19 creditor nations that make up the Paris Club, Finance
minister Hervé Gaymard said. The details on the
moratorium were being finalized Wednesday.

Later, as the Paris Club met to sign off on the
proposal, Gaymard told reporters the leading
industrialized nations within the club regard the
moratorium as "completely indispensable" for tsunami-hit
countries "to overcome the immense difficulties."

Security concerns threaten to hamper efforts to deliver
aid to Aceh province on the northern tip of Sumatra
island, where more than 100,000 people were killed and
tens of thousands left homeless or in need. The United
Nations has been running the relief effort, appealing to
donors attending a conference in Geneva to honor the
unprecedented $4 billion in pledges to help victims.

Separatists in the Aceh region have been fighting for an
independent state for decades. Indonesia’s military
chief offered the rebels a cease-fire Tuesday, matching
a unilateral one already declared by the insurgents.

The military has nevertheless warned that rebels could
rob aid convoys and use refugee camps as hideouts but
has yet to offer evidence to back its claims.

"It is important to note that the government would be
placed in a very difficult position if any foreigner who
came to Aceh to assist in the aid effort was harmed
through the acts of irresponsible parties," the
government said in a statement.

Asked if those who failed to register with the
government before traveling outside the provincial
capital, Banda Aceh, would be expelled, Welfare Minister
Alwi Shihab said: "I think that is one possibility."

Australian Prime Minister John Howard described
Indonesia’s demand as "a good idea." "It is very, very
important that in the process of giving full effect to
this magnificent international response, that we
recognize the difficulties in Aceh, but that we don’t
overreact to them and we don’t dramatize them," he said.

But Australian National University defense expert Clive
Williams said the Indonesians wanted to keep close tabs
on foreigners to conceal military corruption and not
protect them from rebels.

"The big problem with dealing with (the military) in
Aceh is that they’re involved in a lot of corruption
there and the reason I think they don’t want people to
go to some areas is because they’re involved in human
rights abuses in those areas," Williams said.

Before the tsunami, foreigners were banned from the
area, and Wednesday’s demand highlighted the unease with
which Indonesia has faced the aid operation, replete
with civilian aid workers and foreign soldiers.

U.S. Marines have scaled back plans to send hundreds of
troops ashore to build roads and clear rubble. Col. Tom
Greenwood, commander of the 15th Marine Expeditionary
Unit, said earlier this week they would instead keep
only a "minimal footprint."

In a major compromise, the Marines agreed not to carry
guns while on Indonesian soil and that the vast majority
of troops would return to ships stationed off the coast
after each day’s operations. The bulk of the Marines’
mission has become ferrying aid workers and transporting
food from the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme

The Marines flew a French medical team to the shattered
city of Calang by helicopter Wednesday and delivered
supplies to Indonesian troops in Meulaboh to the south.
Navy crews based on the Abraham Lincoln have flown
hundreds of relief missions in the past two weeks. U.N.
agencies said they did not expect Jakarta’s order to
affect their operations because their security officers
already work closely with Indonesia’s military.

"It could change the situation of (non-governmental
organizations) who are moving around like private
persons," said Mals Nyberg, a spokesman for the U.N.
High Commission for Refugees. "I guess that’s what
soldiers want to control — that people are moving in
conflict areas just like tourists."

Nyberg said Indonesian bureaucracy had eased in recent
days, allowing the organization to get permission faster
for helicopter flights to outlying regions.

Getting help to the neediest is already difficult, with
roads washed away or blocked by downed trees.

Kevin Kennedy, a senior official in the U.N. Office for
the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said food
assistance has been delivered to all the affected people
in Sri Lanka. But he said some villages on the hard-hit
west coast of Sumatra had not been reached. He said the
U.N. World Food Program was delivering aid to 300,000
people on the island.

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