Viewer Input for The National - January 3, 2005 programme on the Disaster in Asia
Will politics prevent aid from reaching the people of Aceh?
I appreciate our country's generous response to the humanitarian disaster that has struck South and Southeast Asia; however, I am very concerned that international assistance may not reach the people in need, especially those in Aceh. I would like draw the attention of the Canadian people and government to the many reasons for which the Indonesian government and military are untrustworthy partners in delivering aid to the Acehnese people.
The Indonesian military and government's lack of genuine commitment to aiding the Acehnese population is clearly demonstrated by many of their actions: In the days following the earthquake-tsunami, press reports indicate that the government delayed granting access to the region by foreign aid organizations. Then, on December 31, the military headquarters information centre announced that military operations against separatist rebels would continue during this time of humanitarian crisis. This is a reversal of its earlier declaration of a cease-fire which would free-up all personnel to carry out relief efforts.
This continued military operation in Aceh - the largest since the invasion of East Timor - is precisely why the army's role in delivering aid is very problematic. Since the beginning of its offensive in May 2003, human rights organizations, including the Indonesian national commission on human rights, have identified the military as being responsible for committing gross human rights violations against the civilian population. Furthermore, local non-governmental organizations report that the Indonesian military is involved in illegal business activity throughout the province, and has taken relief supplies given to the conflict-ridden province in the past to sell in the market place.
Perhaps none of this should come as a surprise given the Indonesian military's notorious track record and the fact that the Indonesian government is consistently ranked as one of the most corrupt in the world.
If Canada and the international community want their urgently needed assistance to reach the people of Aceh, aid groups should be allowed to provide assistance outside of government channels and to distribute aid directly and through local NGOs. Furthermore, the Indonesian government must be pressured to allow unrestricted access to the entire province by international and Indonesian civil society organizations, to lift strict limits on internationals' time in Aceh, and to allow for international monitoring and media reporting on relief efforts and human rights conditions.
Following is a compilation of concerns over the crisis in Aceh from various sources. I put it in chronological order. Underlined titles can link you to the sources (websites).
Source: Agence France-Presse
Date: 30 Dec 2004
Aid effort for Indonesia's devastated Aceh cranks slowly into gear
by Victor Tjahjadi
BANDA ACEH, Indonesia, Dec 30 (AFP) - Efforts to bring vital aid to Indonesia's tsunami-ravaged Aceh province cranked slowly into gear on Thursday but was severely hampered by transport problems as the death toll continued to rise.
More than 45,000 people in Aceh have been confirmed killed by the tsunami, which emanated from an earthquake near Indonesia's Sumatra island on Sunday, and United Nations officials have predicted the death toll in the province may climb to 80,000.
Many areas in Aceh, in northern Sumatra, remain cut off from rescue efforts after roads and communications in the remote region were destroyed by the freak waves that killed at least 36,000 other people elsewhere in Asia and Africa.
The scale of the crisis in Aceh continued to escalate on Thursday with one of only three hospitals operating in the capital of Banda Aceh reporting it was having to turn away injured people and was in need of hundreds of extra doctors.
"We hope we can get many doctors and nurses... this is an emergency. We are no longer able to admit more victims," said Mohammad Andalas, a doctor at Zaenal Abidin General Hospital.
The World Health Organisation said that out of an estimated five million people who had been displaced around Asia because of the tsunamis, between one and three were in Indonesia.
"We are facing a huge uphill battle. We know more needs to be done and more needs to be done now," Oliver Hall, the team leader for the UN's Disaster Assessment and Coordination Team, told AFP from Jakarta.
Hall said that although many supplies from around the world had reached Indonesia, getting them to Banda Aceh and then out to the provinces was proving a major problem.
Purnomo Sidik, the head of the Indonesian government's social affair's disaster control directorate, told AFP that a fuel shortage had resulted in a traffic jam of planes at the airport in Medan, the major city on Sumatra.
"There is enough relief aid. So much that it is a problem to park aircraft carrying them at the airport in Medan," Sidik said.
"It is at Banda Aceh airport that the relief aid is held back by the lack of transportation to distribute them. Very few vehicles remain in operation because of the fuel shortage."
Sidik said the fuel problems had arisen because the surging water on Sunday had destroyed the Banda Aceh storage facilities of the state oil and gas company, Pertamina.
The infrastructure and communication problem has been magnified by a decades-old, deadly separatist conflict that led to the government isolating the region and imposing martial law last year.
Nevertheless, Hall said the humanitarian effort that was being led by the Indonesian government in conjunction with the UN and aided by non-government organisations was starting to make progress after four days of chaos.
"Things are starting to normalise slowly. It's been a very hectic couple of days in terms of trying to play catch up with events on the ground," he said, adding much work was being done to establish road access to the devastated western coast of Aceh.
"A huge amount of infrastructure work is being done to clear roads to at least get some passability down the west coast," he said.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees said in a statement it was preparing to airlift emergency shelter supplies for up to 100,000 people in Aceh, including 3,500 lightweight tents, 20,000 kitchen sets, plastic sheetings for 20,000 families and 100,000 blankets.
The United Nations Children's Fund also said it was sending emergency health kits to supply 200,000 people for a fortnight and tarpaulins for 8,000 households.
The Australian government, which has devoted a significant proportion of its Asian tsunami aid to Indonesia, said it was sending a warship loaded with helicopters and a military field hospital to its northern neighbour.
Five Australian aircraft and one from New Zealand are already ferrying supplies into Aceh, and one brought more than 100 injured from Banda Aceh to Medan on Thursday.
The Indonesian military also stepped up its efforts, with SuperPuma helicopters and CN-235 airplanes delivering instant noodles, blankets and rice to areas that had been cut off.
Aircrew told reporters from Banda Aceh airport that the helicopters would land in places along the west coast, while the aircraft would drop the packages from low altitudes.
bur-kma/bjn/br Asia-quake-Indonesia-aid Copyright (c) 2004 Agence France-Presse. Received by NewsEdge Insight: 12/30/2004 05:14:33.
Source: Xin Hua
Date: 31 Dec 2004
Indonesia applies open-sky policy on Aceh for international helps
JAKARTA, Dec 31, 2004 (Xinhua via COMTEX) -- The Indonesian government said Friday it has streamlined procedures for the entry of foreign aircrafts and ships bringing relief supplies to tsunami-hit Aceh.
"Now we have two planes belonging to the Australian Air Force at the Iskandar Muda Airport in Aceh. We welcome all foreign assistance and apply the open-sky policy because of the massive- scale disaster," Foreign Affairs Ministry's spokesman Yuri Thamrin told a press conference here.
He said several other countries have offered to send ships serving as floating hospitals into Aceh. They include the United States, India and Germany.
"These kinds of ships belong to the military but we may allow them on humanitarian reasons," he said. The ministry only needs prior notification from foreign aircrafts carrying relief supplies to Aceh before it gives flight clearance, he said, adding that aircraft crews will be granted by visa upon their arrivals.
Copyright © Xinhua News Agency. All rights reserved.
Source: Agence France-Presse
Date: 31 Dec 2004
Indonesian military continues attacks on Aceh rebels despite ceasefire
by Bhimanto Suwastoyo
JAKARTA, Dec 31 (AFP) - The Indonesian military said Friday it was continuing to launch raids against separatist rebels in tsunami-devastated Aceh, despite having earlier called a ceasefire to help aid efforts.
"Our security operations continue, the only difference is that it may be less in scale and intensity," Lieutenant Colonel Nachrowi, of the military headquarters' general information department, told AFP.
"The principle is that all our forces in Aceh are basically continuing their duty under the security operation. But they also have to accord a large portion of their time for the humanitarian relief efforts.
"We continue to launch raids into suspected GAM (Free Aceh Movement) areas and our vigilance remains high."
Nachrowi's comments come despite Indonesian military chief General Endriartono Sutarto calling for an unprecedented temporary ceasefire on Monday with the rebels so focus could be shifted onto rebuilding the remote province.
"All my soldiers will be used to help overcome this natural disaster and I hope that GAM will also do the same, not using the opportunity for something else because this is really something to do with humanitarian problems," he said.
Much of the western coast of Aceh, including the capital of Banda Aceh, was demolished in Sunday's massive tsunamis that were triggered by a 9.0-magnitude earthquake in the ocean 150 kilometres (93 miles) from the province.
The Indonesian death toll from the tsunamis is nearly 80,000 people, with most of the fatalities in Aceh, and the figure is expected to climb further as rescue workers reach remote towns and villages.
The inability to quickly rebuild infrastructure in Aceh is being partly attributed to the decades-old insurgency that has claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people and led to less development in the province.
The Free Aceh Movement has been fighting for independence since 1976, and the government stepped up its military suppression efforts with a massive operation that began in May 2003. Amid the apparent calls for a ceasefire, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono urged GAM rebels on Thursday to lay down their weapons and join efforts to rebuild Aceh.
"I call on those who are still raising arms, to come out... let us use this historic momentum to join and be united again," Yudhoyono told a press conference here.
"I call on them all, let us together build an Aceh in line with the special autonomy and according to what we can do together."
The exiled Free Aceh Movement leadership announced on Tuesday that it had imposed its own unilateral ceasefire, but said there had been no evidence of the army having laid down its arms.
"We declared a unilateral ceasefire, but some of our people have been killed in ambushes," GAM spokesman Bakhtir Abdullah told AFP in Sweden.
"At this crucial time, there is a natural catastrophe and yet the military troops are still hunting GAM people," he said.
bs/kma/jah Asia-Indonesia-quake-Aceh-rebels Copyright (c) 2004 Agence France-Presse. Received by NewsEdge Insight: 12/31/2004 01:44:00.
Source: East Timor Action Network
Date: 31 Dec 2004
Indonesia: U.S. groups urge Indonesian government to put people over politics
Humanitarian Catastrophe Adds to Human-Created Destruction in Aceh
U.S.-based groups with a long record of experience in the region today called on the Indonesian government to not let politics override the needs of people in tsunami-stricken Aceh. The groups include the East Timor Action Network (ETAN), International Labor Rights Fund (ILRF) and Nonviolence International (NI). Contact information for experts on the region available for interview is listed at the end of this advisory.
"Delays by the Indonesian government in allowing international access to Aceh may have needlessly cost precious lives. The government's apparent opening of Aceh must continue. The government must cut through its bureaucratic red tape so aid can get through as quickly as possible. International and Indonesian organizations must have unrestricted access to Aceh. International media must be free to report on conditions and relief efforts. Strict limits on internationals' time in Aceh must be lifted," said Michael Beer of NI.
"Politics must not be allowed to override the needs of the Acehnese people in this tragic time," he added. As many as 100,000 people may have been killed in the Indonesian provinces of Aceh and North Sumatra as a result of an earthquake and tsunami that struck the region on December 26. The government initially kept the international community at bay as it apparently debated whether to open Aceh up to foreigners. The province had been almost entirely closed to any international presence due to military operations there. The Indonesian government's response remains slow and uncoordinated.
The groups urged aid organizations and agencies to work as closely as possible with local civil society groups and to resist Indonesian government and military attempts to close non-governmental local groups out of the process.
"The high level of corruption in Indonesia, especially in Aceh, and the great distrust of Aceh's central government make it crucial that aid groups be allowed to distribute urgently needed food, medical supplies, and other assistance outside of government channels, distributing aid directly and through local NGOs," said Karen Orenstein of ETAN.
ETAN, ILRF, and NI further urged the government of Indonesia to allow Acehnese outside of Indonesia -- many of whom fled political repression -- to return to Aceh, if they so choose, to seek their relatives and loved ones and assist the relief effort. Their return should take place without burdensome visa restrictions and without repercussions.
Finally, the groups pointed out that this tragedy caused by natural disaster comes on top of an already devastating human-created tragedy. Since May 2003, more than 2000 people, most of them civilians, have been killed in Aceh while the province was under marital law and then a civil emergency. During a previous period of martial law from 1989 to 1998 some 10,000 Acehnese perished. Despite the humanitarian catastrophe, there are still reports of ongoing military operations against Acehnese rebels.
"We are gravely concerned about reports of cease-fire violations by the Indonesian military, who are allegedly attacking Acehnese guerillas instead of focusing on the humanitarian disaster," said Bama Athreya of ILRF.
"The world must not forget that the people of Aceh have suffered massive human rights violations due to years of Indonesian military repression and guerilla operations by the Free Aceh Movement. Until very recently, the Indonesian government and armed forces had virtually sealed Aceh from any foreign presence. The ceasefires declared by the Acehnese guerrillas and the Indonesian government this week are a crucial first step. All sides to the decades-long conflict in Aceh must redouble efforts to find a peaceful solution that strongly involves civil society," continued Athreya.
Two U.S.-based grassroots relief funds have been established for the earthquake/tsunami disaster in Aceh: Nonviolence International-USA, http://www.nonviolenceinternational.net/ and East Timor Action Network, www.etan.org.
Funds raised by these groups will be sent directly to grassroots Acehnese humanitarian agencies and groups to save lives and relieve suffering. Both have the full backing of the expatriate Acehnese community in the U.S.
For interviews and other inquiries, media are advised to contact the following U.S.-based experts on Aceh:
- Riva Syamsuddin, Acehnese activist and graduate of Syah Kuala University. Contact: 703-503-5272
- Munawar Zainal, Acehnese student activist with the Aceh Center in Pennsylvania. Contact: 717-343-1598, email@example.com
- Allan Nairn, award-winning independent journalist who has spent much time in Aceh, Indonesia and East Timor in the last few years. Contact: 917-345-8020, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Michael Beer, director of Nonviolence International (NI). The NI office in Banda Aceh was destroyed and several staff members remain missing. Beer has been a frequent visitor to Aceh over the last 5 years. Contact: 202-244-0951, 703-875-9482, email@example.com
- Patrick McInnis, former staff in Aceh for Peace Brigades International and Oxfam. McInnis served with the Carter Center as an election observer in Aceh in October and is proficient in the local Acehnese language. Contact: 831-484-1318
- ETAN advocates for democracy, justice and human rights for East Timor and Indonesia.
- The ILRF is a Washington, DC-based human rights advocacy organization which has long been active on behalf of labor rights in developing countries and which has brought suit against Exxon Mobil under the Alien Tort Claims Act for aiding and abetting torture and crimes against humanity in Aceh.
- NI-USA is located in Washington, DC. Our affiliate in Aceh is the Peace Education Program that teaches conflict resolution and nonviolence to Islamic clerics and youth. NI serves as a resource center for nonviolent movements around the world. Contacts: Michael Beer, NI, 202-244-0951 (w), 703-875-9482 (h) ~ Karen Orenstein, ETAN, 202-544-6911 (w), 202-319-1711 (h), firstname.lastname@example.org ~ Bama Athreya, ILRF, 703-328-1964 (cell)
Source: The Strait Times
Date: 4 Jan 2005
The Acehnese deserve better:
After more than a century of misery,
it is time to make amends in Aceh
By Anthony Reid
THE magnitude of the devastation visited on Aceh on Dec 26 is almost beyond comprehension. No natural disaster in Indonesian, or indeed South-east Asian, history comes close to the mounting toll of death and destruction of this undersea earthquake and tsunamis. The whole thickly populated coastal strip from Lhokseumawe in the east to Meulaboh in the west appears to have been devastated.
In the district of West Aceh, where communication is very difficult at the best of times, life appears to have almost vanished from all the coastal towns and villages, normally home to about 200,000 people. Only 200 living people were found by the first relief unit to be able to land in Meulaboh, its capital, from a pre-tsunami population of about 60,000. While one hopes that many were able to flee inland, they will face mounting difficulties to stay alive as unwanted guests of the scattered hill villages.
The provincial capital, Banda Aceh, normally home to 200,000 people and to most of the military and civilian infrastructure, has been devastated. The Indonesian disaster response has been tragically slow, but little more could be expected given the disruption to military and civilian facilities. Although the military has 30,000 men on a war footing in Aceh, it appears to have been largely incapacitated by the disaster. Reportedly, only one of its helicopters in the province survived.
Even worse is likely to come, as the lack of clean water and adequate food and shelter takes its toll on the survivors. Those bringing international aid encounter disorganisation, demoralisation and distrust between the military and people. They need clarity as to who is incharge.
This appalling disaster comes after more than a century of misery for the stoic people of this richly endowed region. Aceh has had only a few decades of peace since being invaded by the Dutch in 1873 with very little warning. Forty years of bitter resistance to Dutch occupation lost Aceh perhaps a fifth of its population and transformed it from one of South-east Asia's more prosperous and strategically important centres to an embittered backwater.
Aceh was effectively under military occupation by the Dutch until 1942 and the Japanese until 1945. After a brief experience of running its own show in 1945 to 1951, it was again under military occupation in 1953 to1962, during the Daud Beureu'eh rebellion, and in 1989 to 1998, when then president Suharto's army sought to suppress the Aceh independence movement (GAM) of Hasan di Tiro. Still, GAM became very popular under democratic conditions after Suharto's fall.
Finally, since May 2003, a military solution has again been attempted, and thousands more people have been killed in military offensives and punitive actions, without notably removing the core of resistance.
Throughout this emergency period, foreign journalists, aid workers and others have been excluded from the province, as the government sought to remove Aceh from international headlines.
Having suffered the brutal militarisation of its institutions and its society for over a century, now Aceh has been hit by a colossal natural disaster, the losses of which on a single day dwarf even the tens of thousands that the region has lost to warfare.
To its credit, the international community has also responded in an unprecedented way. The military forces of Singapore, the United States and Australia are already in Aceh dispensing desperately needed supplies, and US$2 billion (S$3.3 billion) has been pledged in aid to the affected regions, of which at least half should in fairness be destined for Aceh. The aid givers have their first chance at the Jakarta summit on Thursday to try to ensure that Aceh's poisonous politics do not again negate all efforts for assistance.
In catastrophes such as this, military forces are best able to deliver aid quickly, and the foreign military units naturally look to their local counterparts to guide and direct. But in Aceh, the military has been the major part of the problem, not the solution.
Over the past 50 years it has killed and rendered homeless too many Acehnese for there to be trust between people and army. The carefully constructed reform legislation to give the widest possible autonomy to Aceh (the Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam or NAD law of 2001) has been completely vitiated by military control of all the levers of power since May 2003.
The need for the underfunded military to raise money from various business and protection rackets has ensured that little of Aceh's wealth has yet benefited its people.
The foreign aid, in other words, must be delivered to the people who need it as directly as possible, without the mediation of the Indonesian military. The best way to ensure this would be for the summit meeting to endorse and carry forward the ceasefire that both GAM and President Bambang Susilo Yudhoyono have said they favour. TNI units on the ground in Aceh have been quoted as ignoring this ceasefire, and the higher command needs encouragement in its resolve to bring them into line. Both TNI and GAM need to be disarmed during the long process of reconstruction, with law enforcement becoming the responsibility of Aceh police stiffened by international police units under United Nations' responsibility.
Both TNI and GAM forces may be able to assist in the reconstruction of areas where they are strong, but only if they are disarmed while doing so, and thereby unable to continue the division and brutalisation of the populace.
The Yudhoyono government has, to its credit, declared open access to Aceh for international aid givers. This runs counter to the instincts of the local military, and again the international community will need to be clear about permanently full access, not just for aid givers, but for the journalists who will sustain global interest in the problem.
The government of former president Megawati Sukarnoputri, in which Mr Yudhoyono was largely responsible for Aceh policy, had allowed international peace monitors (from Thailand and the Philippines) during the peace agreement of 2002 to 2003.
This crisis demands an even more generous response towards accepting the internationalisation of Aceh's reconstruction. The UN needs to assume authority for the international aid effort, in cooperation with Mr Alwi Shihab, the civilian minister President Yudhoyono has placed in charge. Only the demilitarisation of Aceh under some form of international guarantee can make possible the full implementation of the NAD autonomy law and the emergence through elections of a leadership Acehnese can trust.
Acehnese have suffered enough. They deserve this.
The writer is director of the Asia Research Institute at the National University of Singapore and the author of three books on Aceh's history.
Source: Inter Press Service
Date: 4 Jan 2005
Military Offensive Hinders Aid to Aceh
By Sonny Inbaraj
BANGKOK - While volunteers, relief workers and families are busy collecting and searching for bodies in Indonesia's tsunami-stricken Aceh province, Indonesian soldiers are continuing their offensive against separatist rebels, hindering the delivery of badly needed humanitarian aid, critics say.
As aid to survivors of the world's worst natural disaster in 40 years continues to hit new snags, international human-rights groups, are also urging the Indonesian government not to let politics override the emergency needs of the Acehnese people.
Although some reports say that a de facto ceasefire has been in place between the military and separatist rebels since the December 26 disaster, there are no signs yet that the state of civil emergency, which was imposed on the province in 2004 to quell the separatist movement, will be lifted.
"Delays by the Indonesian government in allowing international access to Aceh may have needlessly cost precious lives. International and Indonesian organizations must have unrestricted access to Aceh," the United States-based Non-Violence International said in a statement.
Nearly 400,000 people are now refugees and more than 94,000 have been confirmed dead in the Indonesian provinces of Aceh and elsewhere in North Sumatra as a result of the earthquake and tsunami that struck the region. The Indonesian government initially kept the international community at bay as it apparently debated whether to open Aceh up to foreigners.
Aceh has been almost entirely closed to any international presence due to military operations there against the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), which has been fighting for independence since 1976. More than 10,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed since that time.
The government put the province under martial law on May 19, 2003, before reducing this to a state of civil emergency one year later.
"Under the civil emergency, the Indonesian military continue to play a leading role and there has been no cutback in the level of military operations in most of the territory," said Paul Barber of the UK-based human-rights group Tapol. "Lifting the civil emergency would require the declaration of a presidential decree, but Indonesia's president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, has shown no inclination to move in this direction," Barber added.
On Sunday Jan Egeland, the United Nation's emergency relief coordinator, told reporters that relief efforts after the Asian tsunami disaster were falling behind in Indonesia. "We're able to reach out in all of the affected countries except in [Indonesia's] Sumatra and Aceh at the moment. That is where we are behind," he said.
Aid is beginning to filter in slowly. Sea Hawk helicopters from the US aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln have been carrying emergency aid to some of the worst-hit towns, and US and Australian transport planes, along with other civilian and military aircraft, are bringing bulk supplies and medical equipment into the capital, Banda Aceh. Distribution on the ground, however, is severely hampered by a lack of coordination, washed-out roads and a shortage of fuel and vehicles.
All eyes are on whether the government can or will make use of the opportunity for reconciliation provided by the December 26 disaster to open up Aceh to Indonesians and outsiders. How its relief efforts continue will play a key factor in this.
Many concede that the military is the institution with the best reach and logistics to help out in times of disaster. At the same time, news reports from Jakarta said hundreds of Indonesian military troops, known by their Indonesian acronym TNI, were raiding GAM hideouts across East and North Aceh, which had been devastated by the tsunami.
At present, 15,000 extra troops are being rushed to Aceh, in addition to the 40,000 already there, to help with humanitarian activities. However, Lieutenant Colonel D. J. Nachrowi told The Jakarta Post on Thursday that the calamity should not be seen as a way for the military to suspend security operations against GAM.
"We are now carrying out two duties: humanitarian work and the security operation," he told the daily. "The raids to quell the secessionist movement in Aceh will continue unless the president issues a decree to lift the civil emergency and assign us to merely play a humanitarian role in Aceh."
These comments infuriated Nasruddin Abubakar, president of the Aceh Referendum Information Center (Sentral Informasi Referendum Aceh, or SIRA). "The government is still maintaining the civil emergency and continuing on with military operations in Aceh despite the fact that the death toll now is close to 100,000. Is the government not yet satisfied with the killing?" he asked in a phone interview with Inter Press Service. "Are Acehnese not citizens of Indonesia?"
Nasruddin said his group had received news from volunteers working in the province's devastated capital Banda Aceh that the military was interrogating survivors making their way to relief centers, suspecting them of being GAM members. "We want to draw everyone's attention to the need to save the Acehnese from death," he pleaded.
The New York-based East Timor Action Network (ETAN) urged aid organizations and agencies to work as closely as possible with local civil society groups and to resist Indonesian government and military attempts to keep local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) out of the process.
"The high level of corruption in Indonesia, especially in Aceh, and the great distrust of Aceh's [provincial] government make it crucial that aid groups be allowed to distribute urgently needed food, medical supplies, and other assistance outside of government channels, distributing aid directly and through local NGOs," said ETAN's Karen Orenstein.
Tapol's Barber warned that the natural disaster that struck Aceh more than a week ago will only serve to reinforce the military's role under the cover of becoming involved in humanitarian activities.
"Following the imposition of martial law in May 2003, local NGOs fled from Aceh because of intimidation and the threat of violence against their activists," said Barber. "Even now, Acehnese activists based in Jakarta and neighboring Malaysia know that they would be taking great risks if they return to their homeland to help provide succor for the stricken population," he added.
According to Stratfor Global Intelligence, a security analysis website, the tsunami disaster could prove to be a boon to Jakarta in its campaign against GAM.
"Yudhoyono will send more troops into the province to rebuild and clean up if GAM does not agree to settle the problem peacefully. Yudhoyono will have more troops on hand to clean them out," the Stratfor analysts said.
Source: The Age
Date: 9 Jan 2005
Military restricts Aceh aid
By Matthew Moore, Banda Aceh and Farah Farouque, Colombo
January 10, 2005
Indonesia has banned foreign soldiers and aid workers from most of tsunami-devastated Aceh province, claiming the security risks are too great to allow free movement without specific military approval.
The restrictions are an early sign of the tension in the Government and the military caused by the sudden influx of thousands of foreigners in what has long been one of Indonesia's most closely guarded areas, torn by decades of separatist struggle.
The bans were imposed at the weekend despite recent government assurances that foreign troops and aid workers would be unhindered in their relief operations, and threaten to sour the unprecedented spirit of co-operation between Indonesia and Australia following the tsunamis that flattened the region on Boxing Day.
Tensions were also emerging in Sri Lanka where UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged the Government to use the support it was receiving from around the world to heal the country's ethnic divisions and end a civil war with Tamil rebels. His words came after he reluctantly agreed to a government request not to visit tsunami-stricken areas under rebel control, a move that prompted protests by hundreds of people in Tamil-majority Jaffna. The move by the Indonesian Government to restrict access came as gunfire erupted in the regional capital of Banda Aceh early yesterday and follows several reports of government clashes with suspected Aceh separatists, including a report that soldiers on Friday shot dead seven people in Lamlhom, a village about 40 kilometres from Banda Aceh.
In other developments:
- Prime Minister John Howard said Australian troops and aid workers would remain in Indonesia and other tsunami-hit areas as long as they were needed. He told the nation in a televised address last night. "A tragedy of this magnitude... requires a long-term commitment of resources if shattered communities are to be rebuilt and survivors provided with some hope for the future."
- The death toll from the disaster was at least 156,000. But aid groups and Indonesian officials now fear the toll in Aceh alone could climb as high as 300,000, with surveillance flights over the west coast of Sumatra failing to sight large numbers of survivors among the shattered villages.
- The toll of Australian lives lost stood at 22 last night, with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade revising down to 31, from 40, the number of Australians for whom it holds grave concerns. A further 231 Australians remain unaccounted for in tsunami-affected areas, down from 303.
- Tales of miraculous survival continued to emerge, with an elderly Sri Lankan man found alive under the debris of a southern town nearly two weeks after it was decimated by the giant waves.
- Rich nations pledged to suspend debt repayments by tsunami-hit nations. World Bank president James Wolfensohn, visiting Sri Lanka, said the bank would also consider debt relief and could hand out up to $US1.5 billion ($A2 billion) in aid.
- International cricketers arrived in Melbourne for today's fund-raising one-day international at the MCG, adding to local efforts that included pledges of more than $20 million from Saturday night's telethon and concert broadcast on commercial television networks.
This was despite assurances last Thursday by the Government's co-ordinating minister for social welfare, Alwi Shihab, who told The Age that no restrictions would apply. "Foreigners are free to go anywhere where aid is required," he said.
But the head of Mr Kalla's National Disaster Co-ordination Board, Budi Adiputo, said that was wrong. Aid organisations and defence force personnel had been told that specific permission was needed from Indonesia's military commander in Aceh, General Endang Suwarya, to go anywhere in Aceh apart from Banda Aceh and Meulaboh.
"Only Banda Aceh and Meulaboh are fully controlled> by the TNI (army), so that's why we allow foreigners to those two cities... The policy is foreigners only in Banda Aceh and Meulaboh," he said.
General Suwarya also confirmed the ban, adding that if a US helicopter wanted to take relief stores to Aceh's second biggest town of Lhokseumawe, it would need his permission.
Mr Aditputo said the Government had imposed the restrictions to avoid adverse reaction to the death of a foreigner caught up in a clash with separatists.
"My position is that now there are thousands and thousands of people, not only nationals but internationals who have come here to support us," he said. "If something happens and, say, one foreigner with white skin is killed, how will the international community react?"
The restrictions now on foreigners using the road to Lhokseumawe and towns on the way are even tighter than the rules that applied after martial law was declared in May 2003. For much of that time foreigners were free to travel to Lhokseumawe provided they reported to the military posts in towns they visited.
- with agencies
Date: 10 Jan 2005
Government Curbs Foreign Access to Aceh
Laksamana.Net - While thousands of people in Aceh desperately need food and medical assistance, the government has reportedly banned foreign soldiers and aid workers from most parts of the devastated province, claiming they cannot move freely without special military approval due to security risks.
Vice President Jusuf Kalla on Sunday (9/1/05) announced that foreigners were now restricted to the provincial capital Banda Aceh and the West Aceh district capital Meulaboh, The Age daily reported.
Kalla’s announcement completely contradicts a recent statement by Coordinating Minister for People’s Welfare Alwi Shihab that foreigners are free to go to any areas that require aid.
The new policy comes after shots were fired near foreign aid offices in Banda Aceh over the weekend. The Indonesian Defense Forces (TNI) has blamed the separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM) for the shootings, but some reports have said an Indonesian soldier fired the shots. GAM has denied any involvement.
There are mounting concerns that certain xenophobic generals may be pressuring the government to limit the presence of foreign troops in Aceh, where the military has for decades been accused of drug running and human rights atrocities.
Budi Atmadi Adiputo, head of the Operational Team for National Disaster Relief in Aceh, said foreign aid groups and military personnel have been informed they must obtain special permission from Aceh Military commander General Endang Suwarya to travel anywhere outside Banda Aceh and Meulaboh.
"Only Banda Aceh and Meulaboh are fully controlled by the TNI (army), so that's why we allow foreigners to those two cities... The policy is foreigners only in Banda Aceh and Meulaboh," he was quoted as saying by The Age.
Suwarya confirmed the ban, saying that his permission was required for US helicopters to take relief supplies to other cities.
Adiputo said the tight restrictions were necessary to prevent any foreigners from being caught in crossfire between TNI and GAM. "My position is that now there are thousands and thousands of people, not only nationals but internationals who have come here to support us. If something happens and, say, one foreigner with white skin is killed, how will the international community react?" he was quoted as saying by The Age.
GAM has accused TNI of using the disaster as a pretext to carry out more attacks on the rebels.
The December 26 earthquake and tsunami killed more than 104,000 people in Aceh. More than 10,000 others are still missing and presumed dead. Thousands more now face death from starvation and disease if aid cannot be delivered to them.
There are concerns the death toll from Aceh and North Sumatra could rise to 300,000 as more bodies are uncovered.
Source: Financial Times.com
Date: 10 Jan 2005
Divisions surface over handling of Aceh security
By Shawn Donnan in Jakarta and David Ibison in Banda Aceh
Divisions have begun to emerge between Indonesia’s civilian government and the country’s military over how best to handle the security situation in Aceh, with potentially serious implications for international aid efforts now under way in the province.
The government of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono threw open the doors to Aceh, the scene of a long-running separatist insurgency, in the days following the December 26 tsunamis that left more than 100,000 dead in the province, ending a de-facto ban on foreign aid groups working there.
Alwi Shihab, the minister in charge of aid efforts in Aceh said on Monday that open access would continue and played down any threat to security from rebels from the Free Aceh Movement, or GAM.
He said the government had begun “behind the scenes” negotiations with GAM using religious scholars as intermediaries. “The world is behind Aceh,” he said, “and there is a momentum to reconcile and leave arms.”
However, a military spokesman, Colonel Ahmad Yani Basuki, on Monday accused GAM, which declared a ceasefire following the disaster, of “taking advantage of the situation” and disrupting aid efforts, and said the Indonesian military, or TNI, “must react”.
“Starting from now, the TNI is increasing security to protect the humanitarian mission [and] smooth the aftermath of the disaster,” Colonel Basuki said. “Without security there is not going to be any humanitarian mission.”
Some Indonesian officials have proposed restricting the movement of foreign aid workers to either Banda Aceh, the provincial capital, or Meulaboh, the west coast city nearest the epicentre of the 9.0 magnitude earthquake. International aid groups have also been told they will not be allowed to open offices outside those two cities, aid workers say.
The differences between the military and civilian government have escalated in recent days and present what could become a major obstacle to the delivery of aid in the province.
A December 2002 peace agreement in Aceh broke down after six months in large part because of efforts by hardliners within the Indonesian military to undermine it. Since then the province has been under what rights groups charge is an often brutal military control.
The fear among diplomats in Jakarta is that divisions between the TNI and the civilian government could lead to a similar scenario, whereby the TNI would seek to undermine aid efforts and retain its grip on the province.
“It’s something we’re watching very, very carefully. It’s going to be a major issue in the coming months,” said one diplomat.
Moreover, the diplomat said, the risk of an attack on aid workers by GAM, which has never targeted foreigners in the past, remained small and “paranoia and further restrictions” were likely to “impede the humanitarian effort more than any potential violence”.
An attack on aid workers “would be something you’d think the GAM commanders there would be trying to prevent,” the diplomat said. “They want international attention and sympathy for their cause.”
Although there have been sporadic skirmishes between GAM and security forces in the past two weeks, the level of violence in Aceh has fallen significantly since the December 26 disaster.
Questions have also been raised about who is responsible for those incidents that have occurred.
Security forces blamed GAM for a weekend attack on a senior police official in Banda Aceh, the provincial capital. But according to UN and Indonesian officials the incident was actually the result of a stressed soldier opening fire.
“To the best of our understanding this was a one-sided incident and there’s no indication that it was directed in any way at the UN or the international aid community,” said Daniel Ziv, a UN staffer in Banda Aceh.
A GAM spokesman, Sofyan Daud, insisted on Monday that rebels continued to abide by a ceasefire and accused the Indonesian military of “slander”.
“They are worried about the presence of many foreign troops and international aid workers and are trying to worsen the situation in terms of the conflict and security,” he told the Financial Times. The military, he said, “hope that all foreigners will get out as soon as possible”.
Additional reporting by Taufan Hidayat in Jakarta and Jake Lloyd-Smith in Banda Aceh.
Source: Financial Times.com
Date: 10 Jan 2005
Indonesia delays US navy aid mission
By David Ibison, Jake Lloyd-Smith in Banda Aceh and agencies
A US plan to use navy landing craft to deploy about 1,000 marines on the tsunami-stricken west coast of Indonesia's Aceh province has been delayed because of Indonesian concern that it might resemble an invasion, senior US military officials have said.
Aceh has been under effective Indonesian military control due to a long-running separatist insurgency and has been closed to foreigners. But it now has a US aircraft carrier moored off its coast and foreign troops and aircraft operating out of its main airport.
The USS Bonhomme Richard, a multi-purpose amphibious assault ship, is positioned off Meulaboh, a town that according to the United Nations was 80 per cent destroyed by the tsunamis. About 20,000 people, half of its former population, were killed in the disaster.
The dispute over the use of landing craft illustrates the delicacy of the US relief mission in Aceh. The image of US landing craft heading for the Acehnese coast could touch a raw nerve with the proud and suspicious Indonesian military.
Major Rick Steele of the US navy said the US had planned to deploy the marines at the weeekend to help provide water purification services, reconstruct power lines, restore hospitals, repair roads and rebuild bridges as well as providing other basic aid.
The main road between the Acehnese capital of Banda Aceh and Meulaboh has been severed, slowing the aid operation. Major Steele said the US was unable to proceed with the operations until it received an official request from the Indonesian military.
“We are only doing what the Indonesian government lets us do. They teach at their military schools here that the way the US takes over countries is by moving in,” he said.
Colonel Achmad Yani Batulin, a spokesman for the Indonesian military, said there were concerns over the security of any foreign forces operating in Aceh because separatists could disguise themselves as regular Indonesian troops.
Aid agencies said that with many people in Meulaboh in dire need of aid and shelter, and the risk of disease growing, a quick humanitarian response was essential.
Colonel David Kelley, in charge of US liaison with the Indonesian military, said: “ The Indonesians have to make a call. These marines that are here are not going to be here forever.”
He added that negotiations were continuing and the issue could be resolved as soon as Monday. Aid agencies, however, hinted that the military could have other motives in ensuring the area remains free of US military personnel.
Aid has been reaching Meulaboh by air, but one senior agency official said: “We've had some reports of TNI [the Indonesian army] hoarding supplies up to 30 per cent in some places.”
Meanwhile, US aid helicopters to Aceh were suspended on Monday after a Seahawk helicopter crashed near the Banda Aceh airport in the morning.
“Humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations in the form of helicopter deliveries of essential supplies has temporarily and indefinitely been suspended,” said Lieutenant-Commander John Bernard, based on the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier, Reuters reported. No one was killed in the crash.
Helicopters have been an important part of the aid effort in Aceh as they are frequently the only mode of transport which can access remote villages hit by the tsunamis.