Monday, March 28, 2005

Three Months After The Catastrophic Earthquake & Tsunami (1 of 13)

Three months after the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami hit Aceh...

Are we on the right track? The following articles have a wide perspective from human rights to humanity, from immediate relief to reconstruction, etc. There is a concern over a government plan to cut down more trees in Gunung Leuser National Park (in Aceh) to help rebuild tsunami-ravaged Aceh. In chronological order and the highlights are mine.


Relief efforts in Aceh must proceed unhindered

A South China Morning Post editorial says the Indonesian government's journalism ban and relief effort restrictions put the interests of Aceh victims on the backburner.

South China Morning Post
Tuesday, March 8, 2005

By all accounts, post-tsunami reconstruction in the Indonesian province of Aceh has only just begun. It is therefore discouraging to see that the relief effort is being put under threat by government moves to restrict aid workers' access to the region.

The prospect is that by March 26, three months after the Boxing Day disaster, new controls will be introduced to severely limit the presence and operations of the 140 non-governmental organisations now there. Journalists face an outright ban.

Already, foreign aid workers have been required to register with authorities and travel with Indonesian military escorts when leaving Aceh's two biggest cities. About 800 have been issued visas that expire on March 26 - with no promise of extension.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, now involved in rebuilding villages, has been put on notice that it will no longer be welcome in the province.

The tightened rules hark back to Jakarta's pre-tsunami emergency rule in war-torn Aceh. Such measures paved the way for a rise in allegations of rights violations and corruption, and helped firm up the Indonesian military's hold on the region.

But the measures were hardly effective in achieving the ultimate aim of peace and they are not appropriate now, as the focus should remain on rebuilding the schools, homes and businesses that were lost in December.

The presence of foreign aid workers and soldiers in Aceh has always been difficult for Indonesia to accept. But after more than 120,000 Acehnese perished - and hundreds of thousands were left homeless - Jakarta had little choice but to accept outside help.

Foreign troops are mostly gone and all are set to meet the March 26 deadline for their departure. The aid workers, meanwhile, must stay, for several important reasons. The primary one is that their work is not yet done. Humanitarian concerns must take precedence above Jakarta's political priorities.

A fragile truce since the tsunami has paved the way for a permanent end to the Aceh rebellion, now that autonomous status has been offered and the rebels have indicated a willingness to discuss it. The presence of foreigners can help promote transparency, provide hope and encourage both sides to stick to their pledges.

Closing off the territory and limiting the movement of the agencies could set the stage for a rise in violence. It could also see the emergence of rampant graft that would severely hamper the rebuilding and threaten overseas donations.

Jakarta may well have an unspoken agenda, perhaps to use control over the flow of aid as a bargaining chip in talks with the rebels. Such cynical actions must be avoided. The interests and welfare of the Acehnese must come first. And those interests are best served by allowing the relief efforts to go on as planned.

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