UN urges Indonesia to let foreign troops continue relief operations

Agence France Presse

Banda Aceh, January 14:

The United Nations urged Indonesia not to impose a deadline on foreign troops providing relief assistance in tsunami-hit Aceh province, while president George W Bush predicted today that US aid would help defeat Islamic extremists.

“I am sure the Indonesian government will agree that the most important thing is to save lives and not have deadlines,” said Jan Egeland, UN undersecretary for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordination. Egeland was responding to Indonesian vice-president Yusuf Kalla’s statement earlier that he wanted all foreign military to leave Indonesia by the end of March or “the sooner the better”. The armed forces of Australia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and the US rushed units to Aceh in the wake of the December 26 tsunami disaster. He said that while the March deadline was unlikely to pose major problems because by then roads would be cleared, he was concerned about foreign aid workers in Aceh. The Indonesian government has imposed restrictions on the movement of foreigners in the strife-torn province, saying they were under threat from separatist rebels of the Free Aceh Movement.

“I am worried of insecurity and possible movement restrictions either by insecurity or by political restrictions on our movements,” Egeland said. The US State Department said that the Indonesian vice-president had clarified with the American envoy in Jakarta that no fixed “time limit” would be imposed on foreign troops and that three months was only an estimate.

Meanwhile, president Bush saidthat US aid to victims would help defeat extremists who have convinced Muslims around the world that the US is the enemy.

Anti-malaria spraying


Masked workers with mosquito-killing spray guns began moving on Friday through camps housing tsunami refugees — from communal tents to mosques — working to prevent a malaria epidemic. One expert said he feared they were too late. While the threat of cholera and dysentery outbreaks is diminishing by the day because clean water is getting to tsunami survivors, the danger of malaria and dengue fever epidemics is increasing — and could kill 100,000 people across the region, according to the leader of anti-malaria efforts. — AP

No to proselytising


Indonesia’s most influential group of Islamic clerics warned on Friday of a widespread Muslim backlash if aid groups begin proselytising and start adopting orphaned children. “This is a reminder. Do not do this in this kind of situation,” Dien Syamsuddin, secretary-general of the Indonesian Council of Ulemas, said after Friday prayers in the main mosque of Banda Aceh. “The Muslim community will not remain quiet. This a clear statement, and it is serious,” Syamsuddin said, declining to elaborate on how the community would respond. — AP