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Indonesian Military Makes Conflicting Statements on Rebels in Tsunami-Ravaged Aceh


The Indonesian military is issuing conflicting statements about a truce in the tsunami-ravaged separatist province of Aceh, although the government says it is ready for peace talks. Meanwhile, four weeks after the disaster, officials and relief agencies say the emergency phase of the relief effort in Aceh is winding down.

The head of the Indonesian armed forces, Edriartono Sutarto Sunday said his forces would no longer conduct offensives against rebels of the Free Aceh Movement in order to encourage peace negotiations.

The government's chief relief coordinator in Aceh, Welfare Minister Alwi Shihab, added that Jakarta will consider any proposal except independence for the Province.

"Aceh needs reconciliation. Aceh has suffered a lot. And this is the time that all of us, Indonesian as well as global community, to try our utmost to get back Aceh," he said.

Both the rebels and the government declared unofficial cease-fires after the earthquake and tsunami devastated coastal areas of the province on December 26. But the head of the Indonesian Army, Riyamizard Riyacudo, was quoted by the official Anatolia news agency as saying his troops killed more than 200 rebels since the tsunami.

Meanwhile, four weeks after the disaster, officials and relief agencies say the emergency phase of the relief effort in Aceh is winding down.

Langdon Grenhalgh, with the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, says relief supplies are reaching most victims although small pockets of communities still have not received any aid yet.

"Those are areas that we are trying to target, that we trying to get to as rapidly as possible. We are mobilizing support that's necessary to serve them. It's simply a question of access," said Langdon Grenhalgh.

He characterized these small communities as numbering hundreds of people.

Airlifts and ship-to-shore deliveries by troops from Indonesia and several foreign nations had averted a disaster in many isolated areas, but these are being scaled back as aid deliveries by non-governmental agencies are accelerating.

The World Food Program says a ship carrying 6,000 tons of food reached the hard-hit western coast Sunday and would begin distributing supplies by landing craft. Other agencies were chartering boats to deliver supplies along the coast.

Despite the progress, the task of rehabilitation remains daunting. By Sunday main roads in most urban areas had been cleared of rubble, and some residents had cleared their yards and houses. But many homes are empty and many shops are still closed.

Volunteers continue to recover hundreds of bodies a day from the mud and debris left by the tsunami. And officials continued to revise upwards their casualty estimate, which now has surpassed 170,000 for Aceh alone.