Monday, 7 July 2003

Jakarta (Fides Service) – In a report called “Anywhere but War” the Jesuit Refugee Service describes the tragic situation of displaced persons in Aceh, the Indonesian Province in the north of the island of Sumatra where for the past month and a half the Indonesian army has been engaged in a massive anti-separatist offensive.
The report compiled by the JRS with the help of local groups and NGOs and interviews with the displaced persons themselves, says that more than 35,000 people have been forced out of their homes because of fighting between the army and the rebels. The report proposes also a reconstruction of the roots of the conflict helping to shed light on the complex political, economic and social reasons behind the violence. The report calls for a peaceful solution and says the government of Jakarta should allow humanitarian intervention in the area to save the lives of thousands of people, mainly women, children and old people.
The report says that at present in Aceh there are 8,000 refugee families, or 35,000 people, living in makeshift camps, without water, food or medicines. Many have skin diseases, diarrhoea, respiratory problems which could become epidemic.
While sacking continues and 500 schools are said to have been raised to the ground by unidentified groups, national and international humanitarian organisations are still not allowed into the area, even through various bodies including the International Red Cross and the Jesuit Refugee Service have made formal requests to the Indonesian government.
Jesuit Father Yusuf Edi Mulyono, director of JRS Indonesia, tells Fides Service that “the government has imposed martial law in Aceh and refuses access for international organisations, despite the threat of a humanitarian disaster for the high number of internally displaced persons who fled their villages search of shelter from the violence. These people need help. We call on the government to let us enter while we keep international attention on the problem and we operate in partnership with local assistance bodies present in the area.”
In the meantime a local organisation Kontras reports that in the past month at least 170 civilians were killed in the fighting between army and rebels. The Indonesian army says it has killed 240 rebels, taken 150 prisoners, and 200 have surrendered. On May 18 Jakarta declared martial law and said the offensive would last six months, although army leaders say “the objective is not to kill but to persuade the separatists to lay down their weapons and surrender”. PA (Fides Service 7/7/2003 EM lines 40 Words: 462)