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Jakarta Bars Foreign Aid Workers, Organizations from Aceh - 2003-05-27


The Indonesian government has decided to ban all foreign aid workers and organizations from Aceh during its new military offensive against separatist rebels. The government imposed martial law in the province nine days ago after emergency talks failed to save a five-month old peace plan.

Indonesian officials said the move to ban foreign aid groups from Aceh Province was made because of security concerns. Foreign Ministry spokesman, Marty Natalegawa, said fighting between government troops and rebels from the Free Aceh Movement, known as"GAM," could make foreigners targets.

"GAM is likely, for the sake of gaining international attention on developments in Aceh, to target foreign individuals in Aceh. And therefore we have taken this precaution not to allow that to happen," he said. Mr. Natalegawa said the government has asked foreign aid workers to leave Aceh but it has not set a deadline for their departure.

Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda outlines another government concern: that some non-governmental organizations are sympathetic to the separatists and interfere with the current military operations there.

The Indonesian government imposed martial law on Aceh nine days ago as part of a massive military assault against the "Free Aceh Movement." Scores of people have been killed in the offensive which is the largest military operation undertaken by Indonesia since it invaded East Timor in 1975.

The government said most of those killed are rebels. But the Free Aceh Movement says the government is killing innocent people.

The offensive comes after a five-month old ceasefire between the two sides collapsed. That accord had been brokered by the Swiss non-governmental organization, the Henry Dunant Center, the HDC, which specializes in conflict resolution.

Foreign Ministry Spokesman Natalegawa said he expects the HDC also to leave Aceh. But HDC chief, David Gorman, said his group's status with the government remains unclear. "They said that they would like to open the doors to negotiations. They made that clear in their statement in Tokyo, in their public statements, so we're prepared to continue," he said.

In addition to the ban on aid groups, officials in Aceh said civilians would be issued with new identity cards to help the government stop rebels from blending in to the local population.

Despite the ban on foreign aid groups, the government says Indonesia would continue to welcome foreign assistance for Aceh which they say can be channeled through the Indonesian Red Cross from the capital Jakarta.

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