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US Navy Carrier Prepares to Leave Indonesia's Tsunami-Hit Aceh Province


The U.S. Navy Aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln will leave Indonesia's Tsunami -devastated Aceh Province by Saturday. Australian troops are also scheduled to leave the region within weeks. The announcement comes as Indonesian officials say they are switching from emergency relief operations to the reconstruction phase.

U.S. officials in Jakarta say the USS Abraham Lincoln will likely leave Indonesian waters by Saturday, after more than a month of relief operations in Aceh Province.

Located on Indonesia's Sumatra Island, the area suffered the worst of the devastation wrought by the Indian Ocean tsunami in December. More then 230,000 people died in Aceh alone.

The aircraft carrier's helicopters were the first to reach many tsunami survivors and deliver desperately needed aid.

There was a small ceremony Thursday aboard the ship to thank the officers and sailors who carried out the humanitarian operation. It was attended by Indonesian armed forces commander, General Endriartono Sutarto, and Indonesia's welfare minister, Alwi Shihab.

U.S. embassy spokesman, Tim Gearhardson:

"They had a chance to let us know that they did in fact value our help and at this time they're moving and transitioning from the emergency phase really into the reconstruction phase," said Tim Gearhardson. "So what we're hearing from the Indonesians and what I think the sense on the ship is that its mission accomplished."

But Mr. Gearhardson says not all U.S. military assets will leave Indonesia just yet.

"Now of course not all of our military assets are leaving and certainly not our civilian and our NGO. and our other organizations and our other assets up there," he said. "There still are a number of ships and a number of personnel that will remain there until the Indonesian government feels that we're no longer needed for that part of it."

Mr. Gearhardson says the US military to date has flown 2,800 relief missions in Aceh, given medical treatment to 2,200 people, and delivered 4,000 tons of aid.

Australia also will likely withdraw its troops from Aceh within weeks, rather than months. Australian Prime Minister John Howard visited Aceh Wednesday, saying civilians are now well able to replace the 1,000 Australian troops in Aceh.

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