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In Aceh, Indonesia Foreign Aid Creates Tensions Between Tsunami, Conflict Victims

The 2004 tsunami that ravaged Indonesia's Aceh province helped convince Acehnese separatists and the central government in Jakarta to work together to end 30 years of war and rebuild the province. August 15 marks the fourth anniversary of the peace settlement. While today the peace still holds, the tsunami recovery no longer unites the people of Aceh.

In the Aceh village of Lam Thoe children play in the streets and farmers plant rice in the fields. But in 2004 the tsunami that inundated coastal communities in 11 countries destroyed this village.

Village leader Arachman Yusuf and most of the people of Lam Thoe fled to hills before the tsunami hit.

He says he thought it was the end of the world.

But what followed one of the greatest natural disasters in history was one of the greatest humanitarian relief efforts in history.

International aid helped rebuild the village and clear the farmland.

Reconstruction and peace

The rebuilding effort also helped bring peace as Aceh independence fighters and the central government chose compromise over confrontation. With the peace settlement came new requests for aid to rebuild an economy that was battered by 30 years of separatist fighting.

Many areas of Aceh affected by the tsunami received aid that not only helped them rebuild, but also helped people recover from years of war.

The village of Lam Thoe received funds to build a new school where today children practice verses from the Koran.

And villagers were given a number of goats to produce milk and meat, creating new sustainable sources of income.

Areas being left behind

But because much of the international assistance was targeted just at tsunami victims, areas that were only affected by the conflict have not been eligible for aid.

Bobby Anderson works on post-conflict programs with the International Organization for Migration. He says areas not affected by the tsunami are being left behind.

"There is almost this perception that there are two Acehs," said Anderson.

The village of Lam Durian was not hit by the tsunami but some of its victims were relocated here. Village leader Ali Endi says helping the tsunami victims was the right thing to do.

He says they have to put first the ones who got into trouble by accident.

But he says his village's development was stifled because of the war. As its name suggest the village of Lam Durian relies on growing and selling the durian fruit. Endi says villagers would like to build a school and dig a well to expand their opportunities. And he says his village is entitled to some assistance.

He says he is going to feel a bit desperate because at the moment they can see the tsunami victims are getting very good housing and they would like the same kind of housing.

Anderson says the generous tsunami aid is creating unrealistic expectations for victims of the separatist war.

"A lot of time at the grassroots level, if you don't have adequate socialization of what the government is going to deliver, then people just talk themselves up into a frenzy of how much they are going to get, and frankly it is not that much," he said.

Anderson says the international community is starting to address the discrepancy. But he says the dramatic images of the devastation caused by the tsunami elicited unprecedented levels of donations while Aceh's post conflict needs are not well known or well funded.