Mon, Jan 10, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Dignitaries taking precious aid space

AP , Banda Aceh, Indonesia

Foreign dignitaries have brought welcome promises of help to Indonesia's devastated Aceh region, but they're also creating traffic problems at the area's tiny main airport. The stream of visiting VIPs has clogged the only landing strip and slowed critical aid deliveries, humanitarian workers complained Saturday.

Visits by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and US Secretary of State Colin Powell have shut provincial capital Banda Aceh's only airport briefly for security reasons, delaying deliveries by incoming aid planes.

"It slows things down," said Major Murad Khan, a spokesman for Pakistan's Tsunami Relief Task Force. "I think they need to coordinate that better."

Before the disaster struck, the tiny airstrip handled about three flights each day. Now it is a bustling hub for relief operations and has to cope with dozens of daily flights.

A delegation of American senators and representatives came by helicopter from the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier so as not to take up a landing strip slot.

Major General Bambang Darmono, Indonesia's military commander for Aceh, said standard security procedures required that flights be "reorganized" around the visits of dignitaries.

Also Saturday, the UN said it had begun a mammoth effort to feed up to 2 million survivors of the disaster around southern Asia, focusing particularly on young children, pregnant women and nursing mothers.

World Food Program Executive Director James Morris said at a Jakarta news conference that the operation would likely cost US$180 million for six months. He said the agency has now dispatched enough food in Sri Lanka to help feed 750,000 people there for 15 days.

"We will be distributing food ... by trucks, by barges, by ships, by helicopters, by big planes."

Meanwhile, Thailand on Saturday declined an offer from Japan of US$20 million in emergency relief, saying assistance should be directed to countries more in need.

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