Safety fears for aid workers in Aceh

Indonesia has said it cannot ensure the safety of aid workers outside some cities in tsunami-devastated Aceh, also the scene of a decades-old civil war.

    Aid workers safety in Indonesia may be threatened

    The chief of operations for the province's disaster relief, Budi Atmaji, told a news conference on Tuesday that aid agencies would need permission to work outside the provincial capital, Banda Aceh, and the city of Meulaboh, just 150km from the epicentre of the 26 December earthquake.


    When asked if some places in Aceh were not safe for international aid workers, he said: "Yes, in some places."


    Atmaji said, "Recommendation is needed from the TNI (Tentara Nasional Indonesia, or Indonesian military) before the United Nations and other aid agencies can go other places. If there is no recommendation, it is much better we use our people to enter those areas."


    He added that the safety of international aid agencies could not be assured because the resources of the Indonesian military had been stretched by the humanitarian relief efforts in Aceh.


    Conciliatory gestures


    Most of Indonesia's 104,000 deaths from the quake and ensuing tsunami occurred in Aceh, which lies on the northern top of the country's Sumatra island. The tsunami has killed at least 156,000 people around the Indian Ocean.


    Indonesian military said Aceh's
    rebels might attack aid workers

    For three decades, the separatist Gerakin Aceh Merdeka (GAM) - the Free Aceh Movement - has been fighting the government for independence for Aceh. At least 12,000 people have been killed in clashes.


    Both sides made conciliatory gestures after the tsunami but have since accused one another of initiating several clashes, raising concerns the flow of international aid to survivors of the tsunami disaster could be disrupted.


    Chief of the Indonesian military, General Endriartono Sutarto, said there was a danger GAM could attack foreign aid workers or foreign troops working in Aceh.


    "You know that killing a foreigner here will attract international attention and they need it," Endriartono was quoted as saying in The Jakarta Post newspaper.


    Life disrupted


    "We have a police presence at our compound in Banda Aceh, but we have no reason to believe that GAM would want to do anything untoward"

    Mike Huggins,
    spokesman in Banda Aceh,
    World Food Programme

    Aceh is under a civil emergency status following a year of martial law aimed at crushing GAM rebels and access for foreign aid groups and media was heavily restricted until the province was struck by the earthquake and tsunami.


    The Aceh conflict has been marked by deliberate killings of non-combatants, kidnappings, extortion and brutal human-rights violations that have disrupted life in the province of four million since 1976.


    Mike Huggins, a spokesman for the World Food Programme in Banda Aceh, appeared surprised by the warning, but not too concerned that the safety of aid workers could be threatened.


    "We have a police presence at our compound in Banda Aceh, but we have no reason to believe that GAM would want to do anything untoward," he said.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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