Accessibility links

Indonesians in US Provide Vital Link to Aceh Relatives


Interview on VOA with Munawar Liza Zainal, Secretary-General of the Aceh Center, based in Pennsylvania.

MR. BERTEL:

Joining me to discuss the massive tsunami relief effort in the United States is Munawar Liza Zainal. He is the Secretary-General of the Aceh Center. Thank you so much for being here with us today.

What is the Aceh community in the United States doing to help the victims?

MR. ZAINAL:

First, we are finding information from Aceh directly, and then we distribute the information to the American people here. Second, we are also contacting international agencies in other places and also officials from the U.S. Government. And we talk with them and we tell them what happened in Aceh. So, really, I'm thanking the Americans, because their response is very huge and thousands of people are sending their donations to Aceh.

MR. BERTEL:

So you are seeing quite a response from people beyond the Aceh community in the United States?

MR. ZAINAL:

Yes, that's right. And also I'm thanking the Americans for their very quick response to send the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln to directly access the western part of Aceh, near the epicenter of the tsunami.

MR. BERTEL:

So your organization right now is trying to act as a lifeline between people here in the United States and what is happening in Aceh?

MR. ZAINAL:

Yes, that's right, sir. Because also, since martial law in 2003, they closed Aceh completely. So we get information from our families and then we distribute and, as a bridge, we inform the Americans about the situation in Aceh.

MR. BERTEL:

By all accounts, Aceh was the hardest hit by the earthquake and tsunami last week. What can you tell us about the situation on the ground right now?

MR. ZAINAL:

The western part of Aceh is completely destroyed and has no infrastructure at all. It's almost 90 percent of the western part of Aceh that is destroyed. And as I know from the news, already 92,000 Acehnese were killed by the tsunami and earthquake. And also in Banda Aceh, we got good news that international agencies are already there and the people are getting assistance. And also most of the dead bodies in the city have been evacuated already.

MR. BERTEL:

Getting the relief in to the people in Aceh is obviously a logistical nightmare. Just a few days ago we had reports that relief supplies were piling up at airports inland. Has the bottleneck eased some, and are the supplies getting to the people who need them?

MR. ZAINAL:

It is really the problem. Because there is still imposed a civil emergency in Aceh. And the military is still, after the fourth day of the tsunami, is still banning the journalists from coming to Aceh. So we are fighting here. Even one of the congressmen from New York, Congressman Crowley, he wrote a letter to Colin Powell to ask America to press Indonesia more to open Aceh.

MR. BERTEL:

Do you expect that on Mr. Powell's trip he will be able to get the Indonesian Government to open it up more so supplies can flow and the word can get out about the disaster?

MR. ZAINAL:

I hope so. Because the Indonesian Government must listen to the calls from the international community. For example, they have a problem in Polonia Airport, next to Aceh. They can use Pinango Airport. They can also use the American airport at Talan, or the Talan Airport that used to be the Americans, Utapao. So it's really important for the international community to really, really import directly to Aceh, in coordination with other governments.

MR. BERTEL:

What do you see as the long-term needs of the people of Aceh? Certainly right now we're dealing with the immediate saving of lives. But rebuilding is going to take time. What are the needs?

MR. ZAINAL:

The first is, for me, myself, we cannot stop the education in Aceh. And also the infrastructure can go through with it. Besides rebuilding the infrastructure, we also need to think about the people, the health of the people, clinics, and also education, so the people can get education and then can rebuild themselves. So we cannot just support them every time. If we support them with education, then when they have the education they will build themselves.

MR. BERTEL:

In the larger picture throughout Indonesia, do you see this tragedy having positive political effects down the line?

MR. ZAINAL:

It's really good news actually from the Acehnese side, as I know that the Free Aceh Movement declared a unilateral ceasefire on the second day of the tsunami. But the Indonesian military still imposed martial law. So it's really important for our community, for the international community, to pressure both to sit together and to negotiate, not to solve the problem through a military solution. So it's really that the Acehnese need a political solution, not a military solution.

MR. BERTEL:

Munawar Liza Zainal, thank you so much for taking time to speak with us.

MR. ZAINAL:

You're welcome.

XS
SM
MD
LG