Thursday, January 13, 2005

Crisis in Aceh ~ Restriction on Aid Agencies

Again, a compilation of recent news regarding restrictions on foreign aid agencies.


Date: 12 Jan 2005

TAPOL, the Indonesia Human Rights Campaign
111 Northwood Road, Thornton Heath, Croydon CR7 8HW, UK.
tel +44 (0)20 8771 2904 fax +44 (0)20 8653 0322

TNI Imposes Restrictions on Relief Work in Aceh, Threatening More Loss of Life

The commander of the Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI), General Endriartono Sutarto, announced Tuesday that foreign aid agencies wishing to distribute relief to people in Aceh would be restricted to two cities, Banda Aceh and Meulaboh. Special permission would be needed to go anywere else. All agencies will now be required to tell the military where they intend to deliver aid.

The International Herald Tribune, reporting from Banda Aceh, said that the general implied that permission would not be easily given. Moreover, Endriartono said that outside those cities, aid workers would have to be escorted by TNI officers. On a visit to Aceh Tuesday, the general said he was imposing the new order 'because Aceh was in the middle of a war'.

Since the tsunami struck Aceh on 26 December, killing more than 150,000 and leaving around 400,000 homeless, Acehnese people in the affected areas have been totally dependent on aid from agencies which arrived in great numbers to distribute clean drinking water, food and medicines, and treat the many people injured when the tsunami struck. Without this aid, it is certain that the death toll would have been far higher.

Moreover, the Indonesian Government has also announced that it intends to take over the relief operation in Aceh from foreign aid workers within three months. Reporting this, the Jakarta Post said this was being done 'despite lingering concerns of bottlenecks in aid distribution and the threat of diseases spreading among the displaced people'.

According to the Tribune, many agencies, including the UN's World Food Programme, are reluctant to work with military escorts because they fear they might get involved in the ongoing conflict.

Carmel Budiardjo of TAPOL said: 'Acehnese have lived in fear of the Indonesian military for decades. The new restrictions could make people reluctant to turn up for assistance. Officers may insist on the presentation of identity cards to see whether aid applicants are connected with GAM, the Free Aceh Movement. Suspected GAM members or supporters are unlikely to hold IDs', she said. 'The new regulation could disrupt the entire relief operations, add to the sufferings of the Acehnese and cause yet more disease and deaths.' She added that efforts to end the presence of foreign aid agencies within three months indicated that the Indonesian Government, almost certainly under pressure from the military, intends to end all access to Aceh as soon as possible and return to the situation before the tsunami when Aceh was closed to outside investigation and help.

Since the 1970s, Aceh has been closed to aid agencies and journalists, to conceal the extent of the fighting between the Indonesian military and the armed resistance, GAM. Thousands of people, the vast majority civilians not involved in the fighting, have died, while hundreds of Acehnese have been imprisoned and mostly held without trial.

In the wake of the tsunami on 26 December, the Indonesian authorities, unable to cope with the magnitude of the disaster and bring indesperately-needed aid to the homeless and the injured, as well as cope with the huge number of corpses needing to be buried, were forced to allow almost unrestricted access to Aceh for aid agencies. Now, three weeks after disaster struck, the military are determined to re-assert their control, even though this can only plunge the Acehnese into yet more suffering.

TAPOL calls on organisations, groups and individuals around the world:

To send urgent appeals to the Indonesian president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, calling for an end to restrictions on aid agencies operating in Aceh, and stressing this is a matter of life and death for hundreds of thousands of Acehnese. The President should also be warned that any move to re-impose tight control over access to Aceh will inflict grave harm to the Acehnese people and persuade the international community that Indonesia wants to conceal from world's attention the depth of Acehnese suffering atthe hands of the Indonesian military.

Letters should be faxed to:
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono,
fax: 0062-21 725 0213

Copies to:
Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda,
fax: 006221 345 7782


Source: New York Times
Date: 13 Jan 2005

Relief Operation: Indonesia Orders Foreign Troops Providing Aid to Leave by March 26
By Jane Perlez

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia, Jan. 12 - Indonesia announced Wednesday that all foreign troops assisting in the relief operation must leave by late March.

Sensitive to the impression that it was relying too heavily on outside military forces and wanting to assert control over the relief operation, the government set a deadline of March 26 - three months after the tsunami struck - but said it hoped to phase out the foreign troops even earlier.

A number of countries have sent or are sending troops tohelp. The United States military has taken a major role, flying daily helicopter runs to ferry food to isolated villages devastated by the wave and bringing wounded people to hospitals here in the provincial capital.

The Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group and two other Navy vessels have been cruising off the coast here to provide support. American soldiers delivering the aid return to their ships at night.

Some of the large contingents of foreign troops, particularly from neighboring Singapore, have brought heavy equipment - bulldozers and backhoes - to clear smashed buildings and the debris here and in Meulaboh, a city on Sumatra's west coast that was severely damaged.

Australian troops, which were the first to arrive, are to be complemented by a naval ship due on Thursday.

The Indonesian vice president, Jusuf Kalla, announced the deadline to Antara, the state news agency, saying that the foreign troops could stay "no longer than three months" and that Indonesia would be better off if they left sooner.

In Washington, the White House spokesman, Scott McClellan, said that the administration was "seeking further clarification" on the timetable from Jakarta, but that the United States was committed to helping rebuild the devastated areas. "This is a long-term effort, and the United States will be there for the long haul," he said, "to help people in the region get the relief they need and to reconstruct their cities and reconstruct their lives."

The timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops was made public a day after the commander of the Indonesian military announced restrictions on the movement of foreign aid workers.

The Indonesian military has fought a civil war against separatist rebels here for 30 years and has kept the province of Aceh virtually sealed to outsiders in that period. The new president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, is a former general and a strong defender of the military role in the province.

Western military officials said the Indonesian Army, the backbone of the nation's strong sense of sovereignty, has been cooperative but is touchy about the foreign troops working here.

The governments of India and Thailand, nations also hit by the tsunami, said they could cope on their own. But out of a total death toll exceeding 150,000, Indonesia accounts for more than 100,000 and it accepted help from foreign troops when it became clear that its own military could not deal with the devastation.

Still, in the last several days, a groundswell of opinion has emerged in the capital, Jakarta, that the foreign forces threatened Indonesia's sovereignty, a Western diplomat said.

An anonymous text message comparing American intentions in Aceh to its invasion of Iraq was widely circulated on cellphones in the capital this week. It read, "After Iraq, will Indonesia be the next U.S. target?"

To compensate for the departing foreign troops, the military will send three more battalions of soldiers and a battalion of "mobile brigade" police, the Indonesian government said. Those brigades are generally the forces most feared by Aceh's civilians, who regularly describe them as the most brutal of the array of government forces here.

Explaining the decision to limit the stay of foreign troops, a senior government official, State Secretary Sudi Silalahi, said, "It is not proper for us to keep on relying on overseas aid.

"He added: "We are going to intensify the use of domestic resources to gradually take over the humanitarian operation. By March 26 we expect to have control of the situation.

"But the huge task of clearing debris here in Banda Aceh has barely begun, and it is unclear how much can be done in the coming weeks.

Even as the government announced the deadline, some of the foreign troops that have been pledged to help are still on their way.

The Spanish foreign minister, Miguel Angel Moratinos, said Wednesday night in Jakarta that a naval vessel was scheduled to leave Spain on Thursday and would not arrive here until next month. The ship will carry a military hospital, heavy machinery and an engineering unit capable of building roads, he said. Two Spanish military transport aircraft are set to land in Aceh on Thursday, he said.

An amphibious Australian Navy ship with 150 military engineers and bulldozers and heavy forklifts is also to arrive in Aceh on Thursday to help restore ruined bridges and roads.

Paul D. Wolfowitz, the American deputy secretary of defense, who is a former ambassador to Indonesia, is to visit the area this weekend. He is to go to Jakarta, where he and senior Indonesian officials are to discuss the possible renewal of military relations between the United States and Indonesia.

The Bush administration has wanted to restore the military relationship, which was cut by President Bill Clinton in the early 1990's on the ground that the Indonesian military had committed human rights abuses, particularly in East Timor.

Congress has blocked efforts to lift a ban on the sale of military equipment. But last week, in a gesture that signaled Washington's desire for better relations with the Indonesian military, the administration lifted a ban on spare parts for Indonesia's military transport planes.

Martial law was in place here through most of the 1990's and was imposed again in 2003. Though it was officially lifted last year, many of the regulations remained inplace. The conflict here has meant that a disproportionate number of Indonesian troops were deployed here compared with the rest of the country and resentment of the soldiers is widespread.


Source: The Globe and Mail
Date: 13 Jan 2005

Military escorts will slow aid, foreign tsunami workers say
By Associated Press

Banda Aceh, Indonesia — Relief workers in tsunami-struck Aceh province of Indonesia warned Thursday that new rules requiring them to travel with armed escorts could cause bottlenecks in delivering aid and compromise their arms-length status from Indonesia's military.

Health officials planned a massive spraying campaign in Indonesia's disaster zone to head off a new threat – malaria – which one expert said could kill up to 100,000 people in coming months across tsunami-devastated areas if authorities do not act quickly to eradicate mosquitoes.

In Sri Lanka, a Unicef official said Tamil Tiger rebels had recruited three girls – aged 11, 12 and 15 – living in tsunami refugee camps to be soldiers.

Two of the girls, ages 11 and 12, were later sent home to with their parents, and Unicef is working to secure the release of the third, a 15-year-old, spokesman Geoffrey Keel said.

Indonesia said Thursday that it soldiers must accompany foreign aid workers into Aceh province because of a threat of rebel attacks, but relief groups complained that soldiers will hinder their work.

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

Ms. Burke said her group has had no escorts – or problems – with its work in Sigli, about 100 kilometres from the provincial capital, Banda Aceh.

The rebels, who have waged a low-level war for a separate homeland for 30 years, reaffirmed their commitment to a ceasefire declared hours after the Dec. 26 earthquake that sent killer waves across the Indian Ocean, killing more than 157,000 people. Authorities in Indonesia said Thursday the country's death toll rose nearly 4,000 to 110,229.

Still, there have been unconfirmed reports of isolated skirmishes between Indonesian soldiers and rebels since the tsunami.

Despite the new security demands, Vice-President Jusuf Kalla said the government welcomed the rebels' declaration of a ceasefire.

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.

And they represent an effort by the government to regain control of Aceh and the disaster zone along Sumatra island's western coast, where entire towns and local government infrastructure were wiped out.

Mr. Kalla said Tuesday that Indonesia wants the foreign troops to leave the country by late March – sooner if possible.

Survivors among the tens of thousands living in refugee camps welcomed the foreign troops, who have been flying helicopter aid missions to otherwise inaccessible areas and running field hospitals.

“If they leave, we will starve,” said Syarwan, 27, a tailor who survived the tsunami and is now crowded with some 45 relatives under a tarpaulin at a survivor camp in Banda Aceh.

Others said they do not know where to go to get food.

“I see trucks passing by all the time, but no one tells us where to go if we need something,” said M. Jonandar, 39, whose home in Ulee Lheu, 30 kilometres from Banda Aceh, was destroyed.

One man tried to cheer up children in a refugee camp by wearing a giraffe costume he found in a bag of donated clothes. Children trailed behind, twittering at the costume's black felt ears.

“I'm just wearing it for fun. It's to amuse the kids, who are still so scared and always asking for their missing family members,” said Rindang, a 34-year-old coffee-shop worker who lost his home.

Richard Allan, director of the Mentor Initiative, the aid group leading the malaria campaign in Indonesia, said the tsunami had produced conditions ripe for huge swarms of mosquitoes in areas where survivors were extra vulnerable to malaria.

“They are stressed. They've got multiple infections already and their immune systems are weakened,” Mr. Allan said. “Any immunity they had is gone.”

In southern Thailand, where nearly 5,700 were killed – half of them foreigners – Thai survivors were still trickling into refugee camps from outlying island villages almost three weeks after the disaster.

About 4,000 Thais were in cramped conditions in the camp at Bang Muanf, which lacks basic supplies, including baby formula and tents.

Rich creditor nations, meanwhile, offered to freeze 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.

On Thursday, however, Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda voiced concern that accepting the offer might hurt the country's credit rating and said grants were preferable, according to German Finance Minister Hans Eichel, who met with Mr. Wirajuda in Berlin.

“They want grants,” Mr. Eichel told reporters. “This is in principle their favourite position. ... Indonesian creditworthiness in capital markets shouldn't be damaged under any circumstances.”

In India's remote Andaman islands, battered by the tsunami, Red Cross officials said relief supplies had disappeared from the docks in Port Blair, the territory's capital, and were later found to have been taken by government workers.

“They hijacked our relief material,” Basudev Dass, joint secretary of the Indian Cross Society, said. “They want to take all the relief material and distribute it. We are very clear that we will go and distribute it to the real beneficiaries.”


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