ASIA/INDONESIA - “Foreigners and NGOs must not leave Aceh we need them to help with reconstruction”: tsunami refugees fear they will be alone to fend for themselves

Thursday, 17 March 2005

Aceh (Fides Service) - If, almost three months after the tsunami in south east Asia, the actual emergency stage has ended, now greater international efforts are needed for reconstruction and the resettlement of refugees. This difficult and complicated work demands the presence en masse of international organisations, say displaced persons in Aceh who call on foreigners and NGOs present on the field to continue their assistance. This was reported by Fr. Ignazio Ismartono, coordinator of the Crisis and Reconciliation Service belonging to the Indonesian Catholic Bishops’ Conference, with a staff of volunteers working in the region of north Sumatra devastated by the December 26, 2004 disaster.
Another priority is to repair water pipes, electricity lines, roads to help a return to normality. The role and contribution of the government is determinant but humanitarian organisations can help with the programmes of cooperation, to meet the needs of the people as far as possible Fr Ismartono told Fides. There are rumours that the government intends to ask foreign aid workers to leave Aceh but the people want them to stay because “if we rely only on government help we will be refugees for years”, they say. The UN and the EU have asked Jakarta to let NGOs continue their assistance. But the army fears that the presence of foreign personnel, banned from Aceh two years ago, will increase support for the separatist movement which has fought for independence since 1976 and which Jakarta is facing with harsh military repression. More than 13,000 have died in the conflict and both sides are accused of violating human rights.
The Indonesian army and police forces have said they will resume their hunt for separatists to guarantee security: but observers fear this will only create more hardship, displaced persons and negative repercussions on civilians.
Another widespread fear is that, when foreign groups leave, there will be a greater risk of corruption, bad management of aid.
(PA) (Agenzia Fides 17/3/2005 righe 26 parole 265)