UN asks Jakarta to clarify restrictions

The United Nations fears restrictions on aid workers in Aceh could hinder international relief operations in the Indonesian province devastated by last month's tsunami.

    Indonesia was the worst hit by the earthquake and tsunami

    The United States also said on Wednesday that it was seeking clarification on news that Indonesia wanted all foreign troops helping in relief to leave the region by the end of March. 

    The United Nations said it had met with Indonesian officials about restrictions announced on the movement of aid workers in Aceh. 

    Jakarta has said it cannot guarantee the safety of foreign workers outside the provincial capital Banda Aceh and the devastated city of Meulaboh, 150km from the epicentre of the 9.0-magnitude earthquake that set off the tsunami. 

    It has asked that they accept army escorts if moving outside these cities.

    "I think that we want to make sure that there is
    rapid and immediate relief provided to all the affected persons"

    Scott McClellan,
    White House spokesman

    Margareta Wahlstrom of Sweden, the deputy UN relief coordinator, met with Indonesian officials to get clarification "and assess the operational impacts, if any, of this announcement", said Kevin Kennedy, a senior official in the UN Office of Humanitarian Affairs. 

    "We certainly well understand there has been a conflict in Aceh for the last quarter of a century," he said. 

    "However, we are concerned that any requirements that would create additional bottlenecks or delays or otherwise adversely reflect our operations need to be reviewed very carefully." 

    Explanation sought

    US officials said they were seeking clarification from Jakarta about wanting foreign troops playing a key role in distributing relief to leave by March. 

    "Obviously, I think that we want to make sure that there is rapid and immediate relief provided to all the affected persons," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan. 

    At least 158,600 people in 13
    countries have been killed

    "And that remains a priority for the United States, as well as the international relief organisations in the area. And so we'll seek further clarification from Indonesia about what this means." 

    There was some evidence of problems in the distribution of food. Refugees in a small make-shift camp in the middle of Banda Aceh said their only rations were meals of rice and dried fish brought in daily by a group of college students. 

    "There is plenty of food coming in from everywhere. We see the trucks passing in the streets every day, but it is not getting out to the people who need it," said a woman who identified herself as Darmawati, 41.   

    Debt relief

    Jakarta's worries about a large foreign presence in a region scarred by a long-running insurgency came as the Paris Club of creditor nations announced on Wednesday that it would freeze debt repayments of all nations affected by the tsunami, freeing funds for rehabilitation. 

    Indonesia, the nation worst hit by the 26 December earthquake and tsunami, owes about $48 billion. It would have to pay more than $3 billion in principal repayments this year - about the same amount it says it needs to recover from the crisis.

    "There is plenty of food coming in from everywhere. We see the trucks passing in the streets every day, but it is not getting out to the people who need it"

    Darmawati, women in Aceh

    "The suspension takes effect immediately," Jean-Pierre Jouyet, president of the Paris Club, told a news conference after the talks. 

    He said it would apply to those countries that wanted to accept it but did not immediately give any details. 

    At least 158,600 people in 13 Indian Ocean countries were killed in the disaster, the most widespread natural calamity in living memory. Tens of thousands are missing and millions of people have been deprived of food, clean water and shelter. 

    More than 106,000 died in Indonesia, 30,000 in Sri Lanka, 15,000 in India and 5300 in Thailand.  

    The Asian Development Bank (ADB) said nearly two million people could fall into poverty as a result of the tsunami. 

    The bank's report said that one million people could fall below the poverty line in Indonesia alone, mostly in Aceh. The number of poor in India could rise by 645,000, and by 250,000 in Sri Lanka, the ADB report said.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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