Fri, Jan 14, 2005 - Page 1 News List

Indonesia says aid workers must have army escorts

AP , BANDA ACEH

An Indonesian soldier unloads bodies of tsunami disaster victims at a mass grave in Banda Aceh yesterday.

PHOTO: AFP

Relief organizations said yesterday that Indonesia's demand that foreign aid workers take army escorts to tsunami-stricken Aceh Province would create bottlenecks in aid delivery and blur the lines between the military and humanitarian efforts.

Rich creditor nations, meanwhile, offered to halt repayments on billions of dollars owed by tsunami-hit nations. Indonesia, Sri Lanka and the Seychelles expressed initial interest in the Paris Club's proposal, but Indonesia's foreign minister voiced concern yesterday that accepting the offer might hurt the country's credit rating and that it preferred grants instead.

Relief groups reported having no security problems in Aceh, where rebels have fought a low-level separatist war against government troops for three decades, and some worried that the new restrictions could harm their reputation for independence.

"We discourage such actions because it blurs the distinction between humanitarian and military efforts here," said Eileen Burke of Save the Children.

Rebel leaders reaffirmed their commitment to a ceasefire they declared hours after the Dec. 26 earthquake that sent killer waves fanning out across the Indian Ocean, killing more than 150,000 people in 11 nations. Indonesia's vice president yesterday welcomed the ceasefire offer.

"Indonesia will also make efforts toward it," Jusuf Kalla said at the vice presidential palace.

Indonesia's moves -- which include an order that aid workers declare their travel plans or face expulsion -- highlight its sensitivities over foreign involvement in the humanitarian effort, especially that of foreign troops from the US, Australia, Singapore, Japan and other countries. The security measures represent an effort by the government to regain control of Aceh and the disaster zone along Sumatra island's western coast, where more than 106,000 people were killed and entire towns and local government infrastructure wiped out.

Before the disaster, the military controlled Aceh with a tight grip and foreigner journalists and aid workers were barred. Widespread rights abuses were reported. The Indonesian government says it wants the foreign troops to leave the country by late March.

Also see stories:

Andamans evacuated as toll rises

Lone school in Banda Aceh opens again

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