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Australia Expected to Boost Tsunami Relief to Indonesia

  • Phil Mercer

Australia may increase its aid to Asia's tsunami victims nearly nine-fold, to almost $400 million. Prime Minister John Howard will discuss the aid package at the regional tsunami relief summit in Jakarta this week.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer says Canberra is prepared to offer "considerably more" aid to tsunami-hit regions.

The Australian government is concentrating its efforts in Aceh on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, where most of the victims of the Indian Ocean disaster perished.

In Jakarta later this week, Australian officials are expected to outline details of a massive aid package. Australian newspapers on Tuesday reported the total package may be worth up to $400 million, although the government has not confirmed that figure. Already, Canberra has pledged $46 million.

The new aid is expected to include measures for immediate relief, as well as long-term financial and technical help to rebuild Aceh's battered towns.

Foreign Minister Downer has said international support will be needed for years to come in the countries hit by the tsunami and earthquake on December 26.

Australian aid workers are already in action in Aceh and four Australian military helicopters were arriving in Indonesia on Tuesday to ferry supplies and medical teams to isolated communities.

In Thailand, Australian experts are helping to identify thousands of bodies on the island of Phuket. Mr. Downer, who was touring the disaster zone on Tuesday, says they face a gruesome task.

"There's a grisly, difficult and unattractive and sad job to be done here at the moment," he said.

Australian citizens and companies continue to donate to disaster-relief charities, so far $65 million has been raised. In the country's biggest city, Sydney, many residents expect much more will follow.

"I think it probably parallels a lot of previous tragedies where Australia tends to come to the fore particularly in this part of the world," said an Australian.

"I was just speaking to a colleague from the office today and we're putting together a special, sort of, work effort in order to get people in the office to donate," added a woman.

At least 13 Australians are known to have died in tsunami areas. The government warns the figure is likely to rise - possibly into the hundreds.

Foreign Minister Downer on Thursday heads to a disaster-relief summit in Indonesia.

Australia has also sent medical teams to the Maldives and Sri Lanka.