Thu, Jan 13, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Indonesia gets strict with foreign workers in Aceh

SECURITY CONCERNS Claiming that insurgents could take advantage of the situation, Jakarta said it may expel foreigners unless they cooperate


Foreign relief workers could be expelled if they don't declare travel plans in Indonesia's tsunami-devastated Aceh province, the government said yesterday citing security concerns, as the UN appealed to donors to follow through with promises of aid.

So far, governments and international development banks have pledged an unprecedented US$4 billion to help victims of the Dec. 26 earthquake and killer waves that left more than 150,000 people dead in nearly a dozen countries.

But Jan Egeland, UN undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, said only US$717 million has been converted into binding commitments.

Hardest hit by the earthquake-tsunami disaster was Aceh, where more than 100,000 people were killed and tens of thousands left homeless or in need.

Security concerns threatened to hamper efforts to deliver aid in the province, where separatists have been fighting for years for an independent state. Indonesia's military chief on Tuesday offered the rebels a ceasefire, 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 Indonesian 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."

Getting help to the neediest is already a logistical nightmare, with roads washed away or blocked by downed trees. A bottleneck of round-the-clock aid flights on Indonesia's Sumatra island forced authorities to open a new airport this week on the island of Sabang.

But in New York, an official in the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs was upbeat on the progress of aid deliveries.

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