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Indonesian Government to Study Which Aid Groups Will Be Allowed to Stay in Aceh

The Indonesian government says it will decide by next month which international aid organizations will be allowed to continue rebuilding Aceh province, which was badly hit by last December's tsunami. There are concerns the government may try to limit access to the region, where it has been fighting separatist rebels for decades.

The government of Indonesia is ordering all international relief organizations to fill out forms explaining what they are doing in Aceh Province and the sources of their funding.

Officials in Jakarta say that based on those forms, they will decide by April 27 organizations will be allowed to remain.

More than 150 foreign aid agencies are in the province to help it recover from the devastating earthquake and tsunami on December 26. The disaster killed more than nearly 300,000 people around the Indian Ocean, more than two thirds of them in Aceh.

The government's announcement comes just days after it decided to extend by two months its deadline for foreign aid groups to leave the province.

Michael Elmquist, the chief of the United Nations office coordinating aid in Indonesia, says the government wants to make sure the aid agencies are able to effectively help Aceh.

"So what they're doing now is that they're weeding out those that are not capable or professional in their approach and whose programs do not fit into the government's reconstruction program," said Michael Elmquist. "So from our point of view, that's quite an understandable and prudent measure."

U.N. agencies say they have had excellent cooperation with the Indonesian government regarding their aid programs in Aceh.

However, critics fear the government's plan may be intended to isolate the province, where the government has been fighting a separatist rebellion for nearly three decades.

Before the tsunami, the region had been off limits to foreigners since 2003, after peace talks between the government and the separatists collapsed.

The battle between the government and the separatists, who say Jakarta denies them full control of Aceh's natural resources, has been marked by human rights abuses against civilians. Rights activists blame the government for most of the abuses, although the separatists also are thought to have committed violations.

Some aid groups fear the government may be returning to its isolationist policy to keep the international spotlight off military abuses and possible misuse of aid funds.