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indonesia wants foreign troops delivering aid to leave by end of march

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/ap/20050112/ap_on_re_as/tsunami&e=4 Indonesia Sets Deadline for Foreign Troops 42 minutes ago  World - AP Asia
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 12, 2005
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      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
      flights, however.

      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
      Expeditionary Unit.

      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
      Indonesian military.

      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
      Calang, Indonesia.
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