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Post-Tsunami Cleanup in Banda Aceh Could Take Years


All over the Acehnese capital of Banda Aceh, Indonesian survivors of the December 26 earthquake and tsunami are trying to clean up and pick up the pieces of their shattered lives. With more than a 100,000 dead and much of the infrastructure of the city destroyed, it is likely to take some time.

Fifty year-old Samsol is busy picking up debris and salvaging whatever he can from his small coffee shop in the Acehnese capital of Banda Aceh. He finds a few chairs and a couple of tables and starts cleaning them off, determined to open his business as soon as possible.

Samsol is lucky. He did not lose his wife or three children to the disaster like so many others here, but he says many of his extended family was killed. He says he wants to stay in Banda Aceh where he has lived all his life. He simply wants to get his shop and home cleaned up so his surviving family members, who are now homeless, will have a place to stay.

When the magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck this province on the northern tip of Indonesia's Sumatra Island, the tsunami it triggered swept through the capital destroying everything in its path. Whole communities were wiped out with little evidence people ever lived there.

Iswander has come down from a mountain refugee camp along with 20 others to survey the damage to their village along Aceh's west coast. He is speechless. There is nothing left, just a child's doll over here, and someone's shirt over there. He says only 2,000 people out of their village of 20,000 seemed to survive the tsunami, but no one is certain because they are hoping that others may have found refuge in other camps.

Still, Iswander says he and his neighbors want to come back to their devastated land because it is still their home.

But not everyone wants to go back.

Amri, Iswander's neighbor, is mourning the loss of his wife and two year-old daughter. He is afraid to ever live by the sea again. Amri says he has nothing left, nothing. All he wants to do is pray now and leave his future to God.

But Khairul, an Acehnese businessman in the capital is more optimistic. His area of town was not touched by the tsunami, but his brother lost his entire family - his wife and four children. Khairul feels certain that the Acehnese will rebuild their town, communities, and lives.

"Even they got the big, big problem they don't want to move out [from] the same place. They have to come back, they want to come back, they really want to come back to that place again. If next tsunami coming they don't care about that, so they give all for the God," he said. "Yeah, that's the Acehnese way, very strong, that strong you know."

There is evidence of Khairul's sentiment everywhere. Trucks are clearing the debris, volunteers are working night and day to bury bodies, little eateries have sprung up, and the survivors are simply trying to get on with their lives as best they can.

But there is a shadow being cast over the rebuilding effort: tensions from Aceh's long-running separatist conflict are reemerging just two weeks after the tragedy.

Indonesian authorities say they will monitor the movement of all relief workers - concerned about possible attacks by rebels from the Free Aceh Movement.

The rebels declared a cease-fire immediately after the tsunami struck, but the government says there have been attacks on aid convoys.

Indonesia's military chief Endriartono Sutarto made a fresh ceasefire offer, saying he ordered his troops to stop fighting with the rebels to allow aid to flow freely to the province's estimated half million refugees.