Jakarta wants to control relief effort in 3 months


Indonesia warns foreign aid workers against danger of rebel attacks.

INDONESIA’S President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono wants his government to gradually take charge of the tsunami relief effort and assume almost total control within three months.

While announcing the decision yesterday, Cabinet Secretary Sudi Silalahi said: ‘As I said, we will gradually take over the role of the aid. Of course we hope that on Feb 26, our role will be more pronounced and significant compared to the assistance from friendly countries.

‘If we showed it in a graphic, on Feb 26 it will already be a transition point for our more prominent role and on March 26, our role will already be optimal,’ he told reporters in Jakarta.

His comments came as the Indonesian military and officials warned that foreign aid workers are in danger of attack by rebels in Aceh and should not venture beyond Banda Aceh and Meulaboh.

Mr Budi Atmaji, Indonesia’s head of relief operations, said agencies would need permission to work outside the two cities.

Asked if Aceh was unsafe for international aid workers, he said: ‘Yes, in some places.’

Other measures which the military said were needed to curtail a growing threat from separatists include posting Indonesian military liaison officers on all foreign planes and ships delivering aid in Aceh and having all agencies obtain clearance permits.

Armed forces chief General Endriartono Sutarto said the restrictions would remain until the rebels surrendered.

Aid workers fear that the restrictions will hamper relief efforts as teams of emergency experts need to get into remote areas to set up camps for an estimated 200,000 displaced people in Aceh.

They say they need to access sites of sewerage and water facilities and many of these sites are outside Banda Aceh and Meulaboh.

Health and sanitation workers say that within two weeks there could be cholera and diarrhoea outbreaks. Unless there is a smooth flow of relief supplies into the affected areas, the situation might get out of control.

Gen Sutarto said there had been one incident of a foreign medical officer being taken hostage for a short while, as well as others of rebels ambushing relief supply convoys.

‘GAM tried to stop food assistance, they robbed all the food and medicine there,’ he said, referring to the rebel Free Aceh Movement (GAM) which has been fighting for independence since 1976. He did not give further details about the alleged hostage-taking or the attacks on convoys.

He called on the rebels to agree to a ceasefire and ‘work together’ to help rebuild.

‘If they ask for food, we will give it to them,’ he said. ‘They do not have to do this.’

But the rebel group has condemned the move and accused the government of ‘dispatching false news’.

Its leader Muzakir Manaf said in a statement that the rebels would guarantee the safety of all international volunteers.

The government yesterday also said the airport in Banda Aceh, the hub of relief operations, was dangerously overstretched.

Officials said they were worried about a possible plane crash and have opened another airport on the island of Sabang, just north of Sumatra, to ease the congestion.

Banda Aceh airport has one landing strip and handled only three daily scheduled flights before the disaster.

Now it is the hectic hub of one of the world’s biggest-ever aid operations and is struggling to cope with about 200 daily airplane and helicopter flights.

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