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Hughes Visits Indonesia's Tsunami-Devastated Aceh Province


A top U.S. official paid a visit to Indonesia's tsunami-devastated province of Aceh on Saturday, where she had to contend with a controversy surrounding U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

U.S. Undersecretary of State Karen Hughes traveled Saturday to Indonesia's staunchly Islamic province of Aceh.

Ms. Hughes had received a hostile reception in Jakarta on Friday from students critical of U.S. policies in the Islamic world. But many Acehnese have expressed gratitude to the United States, which was quick to send helicopters and aid shortly after the December 26 earthquake and tsunami. That disaster killed more than 160,000 people in Aceh and destroyed much of region's infrastructure.

During her four-hour trip to Aceh Saturday, Ms. Hughes met with traders at what was once the biggest market in the provincial capital of Banda Aceh, now an area being rebuilt with part of the $400 million in tsunami aid that Washington has pledged to Indonesia.

The visit was subdued compared to her meeting Friday with 15 students at one of the country's leading Islamic universities. They disagreed with the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, and also questioned her sharply about U.S. policies in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

Even as she makes her way through Muslim Southeast Asia, a new controversy over U.S. actions is building. After leaving the university, Ms. Hughes was asked by journalists about a news report that U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan had burned the bodies of two suspected Taleban insurgents - an act that violates Muslim tradition, which demands that bodies be buried.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has demanded a speedy investigation into the report. Ms. Hughes was quick to condemn any such act.

"It's abhorrent," said Karen Hughes. "It's a matter that's being investigated. If true, it is a complete violation of our policies, which require that remains be treated with respect and in compliance with the Geneva Convention."

It was notable, however, that the situation had put her on the defensive in the midst of her goodwill tour. Her job, she told reporters in Jakarta, is to improve the U.S. image among Muslims.

"And so I'm trying to think in terms of putting in place the kind of things institutionally that will allow our country to better communicate with the world and engage in a dialogue with the world," she said.

Ms. Hughes's next stop is Malaysia, another country with a Muslim majority, and another where U.S. policies have come in for frequent criticism.