Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Aceh Update

Watch this closely over the next few days. Facts on the ground may develop rather quickly. It started with a warning to the aid workers I wrote about here. As more details come out about the web of military and rebel groups, it looks worse the it first seemed.

The Indonesian "military also asked aid groups to draw up a list of international relief workers – and to report on their movements, underlining the unease with which Indonesia has permitted foreign military and civilian aid workers to assist with the biggest aid operation in history. Nearly 400,000 homeless people may live camps for two years.

Despite that "Gen Sutarto said the foreign military presence in Aceh, including around 900 Australian troops, would be dismantled as soon as possible. "The faster we can eliminate this kind of aid the better," he said."

Meanwhile: "A senior aid official, fresh from Indonesia's tsunami-battered province of Aceh, has downplayed Indonesian military concerns over the safety of relief agencies working in the region. Michael Diamond, Asia regional director for child support group, Plan International, said access outside Banda Aceh was limited only by the extent of damage to roads and bridges."

Sure, why not? Giving the Indonesian military (TNI) the names of aid workers and reporting on their movements will help protect them. At least from the Free Aceh Movement (GAM). But what about Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), who issued the paranoid threat earlier today? Or the "even more militant Laskar Mujahidin (LM), which is also in Aceh?"

"The TNI retains active links with the FPI, and although its association with LM is far more murky, being through military intelligence, the LM was armed with standard issue TNI weapons and uniforms."

It's obvious the Islamists don't want the aid workers in Aceh. Does the Indonesia military want them there? If not, how can providing the names and locations of aid workers be considered protection? Will the aid workers, including unarmed Australian soldiers, get caught in the cross-fire between the military and the rebels?

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