Indonesia Sets Deadline for Foreign Troops
42 minutes ago
�World - AP Asia
By JIM GOMEZ, Associated Press Writer
BANDA ACEH, Indonesia - Indonesia announced that U.S.
and other foreign troops providing tsunami disaster
relief must leave the country by the end of March and
ordered aid workers Wednesday to declare their travel
plans or face expulsion from devastated Aceh province
on Sumatra island.
The government's moves highlight its sensitivities
over a foreign military operation in this country �
albeit a humanitarian one � and underscore its efforts
to regain control of Aceh province, the scene of a
decades-old conflict between separatist rebels and
federal troops accused of human rights abuses.
The latest restrictions placed on the international
presence came as the aircraft carrier leading the U.S.
military's tsunami relief effort steamed out of
Indonesian waters Wednesday after the government
declined to let the ship's fighter pilots use its
airspace for training missions. The USS Abraham
Lincoln's diversion was not expected to affect aid
U.S. Marines have also scaled back their plans to send
hundreds of troops ashore to build roads and clear
rubble. The two sides reached a compromise in which
the Americans agreed not to set up a base camp on
Indonesia or carry weapons.
Instead, the Marines � some 2,000 of whom were
diverted to tsunami relief from duty in Iraq (news -
web sites) � will keep a "minimal footprint" in the
country, with most returning to ships at night, said
Col. Tom Greenwood, commander of the 15th Marine
In Washington, the White House asked the Indonesian
government to explain why it was demanding that the
U.S. military and other foreign troops providing
disaster relief leave the country by March 31.
"We've seen the reports. ... We'll seek further
clarification from Indonesia about what this means,"
said Scott McClellan, press secretary to President
Bush (news - web sites). "We hope that the government
of Indonesia and the military in Indonesia will
continue the strong support they have provided to the
international relief efforts so far."
In announcing the decision, Indonesian Vice President
Jusuf Kalla said Tuesday that "a three-month period is
enough, even sooner the better."
Cabinet Secretary Sudi Silalahi explained that
Indonesia hopes to take over the humanitarian work by
March 26, which will be exactly three months after the
massive 9.0-magnitude earthquake set off waves across
southern Asia and Africa, that killed more than
150,000 people, two-thirds of them on Sumatra.
Starting Jan. 26, Indonesia will "gradually take over
the role of foreign military and nonmilitary
assistance," Silalahi said. By Feb. 26, he said,
Indonesia's role should be larger than that of the
Indonesia � where the tsunami killed more than 106,000
people � is not the only affected country that is
ambivalent about U.S. military aid.
After the earthquake and tsunami, the U.S. military
dispatched the Abraham Lincoln battle group to Sumatra
and three ships carrying Marines toward Sri Lanka,
where more than 30,000 people were killed. But two
ships carrying Marines were diverted to Sumatra after
Sri Lanka downgraded its request for help. India,
where more than 10,000 were killed, rebuffed U.S. aid
Some 13,000 U.S. military personnel, most of them
aboard ships in the Abraham Lincoln's battle group,
are taking part in the relief effort.
In Indonesia, hundreds of troops from other nations
are also helping out, along with U.N. agencies and
scores of non-governmental aid groups.
Australia has more than 600 troops in Aceh and expects
to have about 300 more by week's end. Japan has sent
two ships with 350 troops, and has promised to deploy
about 1,000. Germany and Britain each has a smaller
presence, involving mostly medical teams.
They, too, have agreed not to carry weapons while on
Indonesian soil and are leaving security to the
Both government troops and separatist rebels in Aceh
say they won't launch attacks during the tsunami
emergency. Indonesian soldiers and witnesses have
described at least one clash in detail to The
Associated Press, involving rebels who were either
seeking food or trying to visit relatives.
The Indonesian government has traditionally barred
foreigners from visiting Aceh, relenting after the
tsunami struck and no other option existed but to
invite foreign troops to deliver aid and set up field
Indonesian authorities are now moving reassert
control. On Wednesday, they ordered aid workers to
declare travel plans or face expulsion from Aceh,
saying it was for their safety.
The statement from Indonesia's relief chief also said
that if groups head to regions considered dangerous,
"then their safety will be organized by the national
security authority." It was not known if that meant
aid organizations may get military escorts.
Australian Prime Minister John Howard described the
demand as "a good idea."
But Australian National University defense expert
Clive Williams said the Indonesians want to keep close
tabs on foreigners to conceal corruption.
"The big problem with dealing with (the military) in
Aceh is that they're involved in a lot of corruption
there and the reason I think they don't want people to
go to some areas is because they're involved in human
rights abuses," Williams said.
U.N. officials worried the new rules might delay the
delivery of supplies.
"Any requirements that would create any additional
bottlenecks or delays or otherwise adversely affect
our operations need to be reviewed very carefully,"
said Kevin Kennedy at the U.N. Office for the
Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
The USS Abraham Lincoln's diversion to international
waters did not interrupt the steady stream of
helicopter flights delivering aid along the devastated
coast of Sumatra island, because they were able to
refuel on other Navy ships closer to shore, said Lt.
Cmdr. John M. Daniels.
Under Navy rules, pilots of carrier-based warplanes
cannot go longer than 14 days without flying, or their
skills are considered to have degraded too far and
they have to undergo extensive retraining.
The bulk of the Marines' mission, meanwhile, has
become ferrying aid workers and transporting food from
the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard. On
Wednesday, Marine helicopters flew the first mission
to the shattered city of Calang to drop off a French
medical team. Helicopters also delivered supplies to
Indonesian troops in Meulaboh, farther south.
Capt. David Shealy swooped his helicopter down on a
scene of utter destruction � palm trees lying strewn
across a beach, their roots sticking out of the sand.
Rice paddies were filled with mud. Houses had been
turned into piles of rubble, or washed out to sea.
Bridges were buckled and broken.
But as Shealy lowered his helicopter to hover just a
few feet over a road, hundreds of people suddenly
appeared, swarming around, arms outstretched.
"It's like nothing I've ever seen before," said
Shealy, of Dillon, S.C.
Contributing to this report were Associated Press
writers Denis D. Gray aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln
and Eric Talmadge from the USS Bonhomme Richard and