Accessibility links

Indonesia's Aceh Rebels Offer Cease-Fire in Tsunami-Hit Province

  • Scott Bobb

A day after Indonesia placed security restrictions on aid workers in its tsunami-hit Aceh Province, rebels have offered new truce talks. International aid agencies and Indonesian officials are downplaying safety concerns and restrictions.

Local officials in Indonesia's Aceh Province Thursday sought to reassure foreign aid workers and journalists that new security measures would not hamper relief efforts.

Wednesday Jakarta announced that aid workers must report movements outside the major cities and accept military escorts. In addition, the government wants all foreign troops helping the region to be out by the end of March.

But the vice governor of Aceh, Azwar Abubakar, says this in no way means his people are not grateful for or do not need outside help.

"I'm actually afraid that they [foreign aid workers] are going to leave us after one month and I'll be left all alone here to finish all the damage," he said.

Thousands of relief workers, including military personnel from several foreign countries, have been struggling to deliver emergency relief supplies to the survivors. Including airlifts to isolated and cut off areas.

More than 100,000 people died in Aceh and a million are estimated homeless.

The United Nations met with Indonesian officials to discuss how to prevent the new restrictions from causing dangerous delays.

Locally, spokeswoman for the World Food Program, Bettina Luescher, says the new rules are not unusual - especially given that Aceh has been a conflict zone for almost 30 years.

"Like we do in many other countries around the world, we tell them where we are going and what we are doing," she explained. "It's a standard procedure in many countries. So we don't really have a problem with it."

The Indonesian government has been battling separatist rebels of the Free Aceh Movement, known as GAM. For the last two years, Aceh has either been under martial law or civil emergency rules following the collapse of a brief truce.

As part of the emergency, the government banned visits to the province by foreigners, human rights groups and journalists, some of whom wanted to investigate allegations of human rights violations on both sides.

These restrictions were lifted after last month's tsunami disaster but many fear that the recent announcement signals a return to past policies.

An expert on Indonesian insurgent groups, Sidney Jones of the International Crisis Group, voiced skepticism that safety is the prime reason for Indonesia's new restrictions. She says there is no indication that GAM is interfering with relief efforts.

"The government's tendency will be to always blame GAM," she said. "Whereas in fact there are criminal elements, there are thugs and there are assorted

militias that could all be responsible for some kind of incident and I don't think GAM in fact would target relief workers."

Aceh's rebels have been observing an unofficial truce during the tragedy. On Thursday, GAM announced, from its exile headquarters in Sweden, that it was willing to begin new ceasefire negotiations with the Indonesian government.

Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla welcomed the offer.

XS
SM
MD
LG