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Oxfam Suspends Tsunami Aid in Aceh Over Possible Theft

International aid group Oxfam is suspending its operations in Aceh, Indonesia, because of fears that thousands of dollars have been stolen. The operations were aimed at helping Aceh recover from the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

Oxfam suspended the operations as soon as it was alerted to the possible theft from its operations in Aceh Besar, near the provincial capital, Banda Aceh.

Yon Thyrun is a spokesman for Oxfam in Aceh. He says the theft could run into tens of thousands of dollars but it is not yet known how much is missing.

"We found financial irregularities in Aceh Besar - we still [are] investigating this case, and we cannot talk how big [much] money, and we cannot talk who [is] behind this [theft of] aid money," he said.

Indonesia is regularly rated as one of the world's most corrupt countries. Experts have frequently warned that with billions of dollars of tsunami donations pouring into the country, aid groups would have to work hard to avoid having funds disappear.

Thyrun says Oxfam is working around the clock to uncover the source of corruption and the Indonesian police have been called in to investigate.

Until the matter is resolved, housing and livelihoods programs, which are crucial in a province where as many as half a million people lost their homes, have been suspended.

Oxfam plans to build over 2,000 homes this year in Aceh, and is helping 60,000 people with employment, farming and small business programs. But the British aid agency says it hopes to resume its work as soon as possible.

"We hope as soon as possible will run again to build a house and to give livelihood program to people," said Thyrun.

More than $13 billion in aid was pledged to help the countries hit by the December 2004 tsunami, which killed more than 200,000 people. Aceh, which suffered the greatest losses, will get the greatest amount of aid. Oxfam's budget for its Aceh projects is $30 million.