Muslim leader warns international aid groups against conversions in Aceh

Wolfowitz says US troops won’t stay for long

Associated Press

Banda Aceh, January 15:

Indonesia’s Muslims ‘will not remain quiet’ if international relief groups try to convert tsunami survivors to Christianity, a senior Islamic leader said, while efforts to prevent epidemics in overcrowded, unsanitary relief camps gathered steam. With thousands made homeless by the December 26 disaster, the United Nations sped up its measles vaccination drive after 20 cases of the disease were reported across Indonesia’s hard-hit Aceh province.

Health workers also began spraying tents with insecticide to prevent malaria in areas swamped by last month’s earthquake-triggered tsunami. US Deputy Secretary of Defence Paul Wolfowitz, in Thailand today, met the Thai defence minister to discuss aid efforts. He told reporters that he hopes the US military’s role in the relief mission will end well before the end of March — following statements from Indonesian leaders that all foreign troops should leave the country by March 31.

“I would hope that we would not be needed (in the region) as a military long before March,” Wolfowitz said, according to a transcript of his remarks released at the Pentagon. “Well, let me not predict,” he added. “I would hope that the date would not be an issue at all.” “For any country it is sensitive to have foreign troops on your territory. It would be sensitive in the US and I can tell you that it is extremely sensitive in Indonesia,” he said. “What’s remarkable is that it has caused no problems to date.” As more aid flowed to worst-hit areas of Indonesia and Sri Lanka, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he would name a special envoy next week to coordinate relief and reconstruction efforts in the countries hit by the killer waves.

At Friday prayers in the main mosque of Banda Aceh, a Muslim leader warned against attempts by some Christian aid workers to evangelize among tsunami survivors.

“All non-governmental organisations, either domestic or international, with hidden agendas are 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.

“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.” Meanwhile, Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla said the government was pursuing a permanent truce with rebels who have been fighting for an independent homeland in northern Sumatra for decades. He didn’t give details.