Associated Press

Banda Aceh, January 12:

Foreign aid workers and journalists in the tsunami-stricken Indonesian province of Aceh could be expelled if they don’t report their movements outside the provincial capital, officials said today, citing security concerns.

Indonesia has long been wary of foreigners’ presence in Aceh because of accusations of human rights abuses committed by the military in its campaign to stamp out a separatist insurgency. Foreign aid workers and journalists were banned from Aceh before the magnitude-9.0 earthquake hit on December 26, triggering the devastating tsunami. Now the region is the centre of a huge international aid effort involving militaries and civilians from many nations.

In a statement issued early today in the provincial capital, Banda Aceh, relief operations chief Budi Atmaji said some parts of the province were not safe because of Free Aceh Movement rebels. He ordered international aid groups and reporters to inform the government of their travel plans outside of Banda Aceh. “It is important to note that the government would be placed in a very difficult position if any foreigner who came to Aceh to assist in the aid effort was harmed through the acts of irresponsible parties,” the statement said, in an apparent reference to possible attacks by rebels.

“Such an event would severely hamper the humanitarian effort which remains the government’s first priority and would distract officials from their focus on providing relief.” Asked if it was possible groups could be expelled from Aceh if they disregard the order, Welfare Minister Alwi Shihab said: “I think that is one possibility.” United Nations officials in Banda Aceh could not immediately be reached for comment on the new restrictions.

May reject aid offers


Indonesia may reject some offers of foreign aid for it’s tsunami-devastated regions because they could prove too costly to accept, a senior government official said on Wednesday. Cabinet Secretary Yusril Ihza Mahendra said the country had yet to receive most of the relief pledged and was still considering many offers, including grant commitments of up to $500 million. “So far they are only in commitment form and up to now, we are still studying them,” Mahendra told reporters. — AFP