Jakarta does U-turn on foreign troops

Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda has said he welcomes the presence of foreign troops in the country helping tsunami relief efforts.

    Kalla had called on foreign troops to leave by the end of March

    "You can rest assured that we welcome even foreign troops. Their presence is based on our request," Hassan said on Thursday, speaking at a press conference with his German counterpart Joschka Fischer in Berlin. 

    Indonesia's Vice-President Jusuf Kalla called on Wednesday for foreign troops helping with relief efforts to leave the stricken area of Aceh, on the northern tip of Sumatra island, by the end of March. 

    Since then, Indonesian officials have sought to retract Kalla's statement and US Secretary of State Colin Powell said on Thursday that no deadline had been set. 

    Australia, China, Germany, Japan, Malaysia, Pakistan, Singapore, Spain, Switzerland and the US all have forces aiding the relief efforts in Aceh on Sumatra island's northern tip.

    With open arms

    Meanwhile, US Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz on Thursday said US troops had been made welcome. 


    Several countries have sent their
    troops to help in relief operations

    "The Indonesians have welcomed us with open arms and all of the kinds of concerns about sovereignty and mistrust of foreign militaries have been put aside in the wake of this disaster to a degree that, frankly, old Indonesian hands are surprised," said Wolfowitz, a former ambassador to Indonesia. 

    Speaking to reporters travelling with him to tsunami-hit areas in Asia, Wolfowitz said he expected the US military to have finished helping victims of the 26 December tsunami before the end of March. 

    "It would certainly be our expectation - our hope - that we would not be needed as a military in Indonesia [by the end of March]," he said. 

    Safety fears

    Wolfowitz said he understood that it was difficult for any country to have foreign troops on its soil. "It would be sensitive in the United States, and I can tell you that it is extremely sensitive in Indonesia," he said.

    "The Indonesians have welcomed us with open arms and all of the kinds of concerns about sovereignty and mistrust of foreign militaries have been put aside"

    Paul Wolfowitz


    US deputy defence secretary

    The United Nations had on Wednesday expressed fears restrictions placed by Jakarta on aid workers in Aceh could hinder international relief operations.

    Jakarta had said it could not guarantee the safety of foreign workers outside Aceh's 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 had asked that they accept army escorts if moving outside these cities.


    Meanwhile a senior Muslim leader warned international relief workers on Friday of a backlash if they bring Christian proselytising along with their humanitarian aid.

    At Friday prayers in the main mosque of Banda Aceh a Muslim leader warned against the attempts by some Christian aid workers to evangelise among tsunami survivors. Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim nation, and Aceh is particularly conservative.

    "All non-governmental organisations, either domestic or international, with hidden agendas coming here with humanitarian purposes but instead proselytising, this is what we do not like," said Dien Syamsuddin, secretary-general of the Indonesian Council of Ulemas.

    He also condemned reports that US-based welfare organisation WorldHelp had planned to adopt 300 Acehnese children orphaned by the quake and raise them in a Christian children's home.

    The group told The Associated Press on Thursday it has since abandoned those plans.

    "This is a reminder. Do not do this in this kind of situation," Syamsuddin said. "The Muslim community will not remain quiet. This a clear statement, and it is serious."

    SOURCE: Agencies


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