A selection of coverage as part of “Crisis in Aceh” series that focus on ongoing relief obstacles. In chronological order and the highlights are mine.
Donors Fail Tsunami Survivors on Housing, Jobs — UN
Geneva, Feb. 8 (Reuters) – Donor countries are failing to provide enough funds for temporary housing and job creation for survivors of December’s Indian Ocean tsunami, a senior United Nations official said on Monday.
Margareta Wahlstrom, the U.N.’s special tsunami relief envoy, also urged governments to convert their aid pledges into cash as quickly as possible.
“There are two issues we have to focus on at this stage and over the next six months: providing people with shelter, however temporary, and giving them the opportunity to earn an income,” she told a news conference.
“What would really make a difference would be if people could get back to work… We must not create a dependence on aid, which would create a real problem in the longer term.”
Up to 300,000 people in several countries and island states died in the December 26 tidal waves that followed an undersea quake off Aceh province on the northwestern tip of Indonesia — the area worst hit in the disaster.
But many more in other coastal communities from Thailand to Sri Lanka, southern India, the Maldives, the Seychelles and Somalia in east Africa, lost their homes and jobs.
“We are talking about hundreds of thousands of people who will need support for at least the next six months, especially in Aceh,” Wahlstrom said.
Last month the U.N. issued an appeal for $977 million in funding to support the relief effort over its first six months.
But donors’ pledges cover less than half the money wanted for temporary housing and job creation, though other parts of the relief program are fully covered, she said.
Income-generating programs needing support include debris clearing, which could employ local people, and simple boats so that fishing — a key occupation in the region — can resume.
Wahlstrom said that so far some $900 million of the $977 million requested had been pledged, but only $360 million had actually been handed over.
Tsunami relief in Aceh will get more difficult, warns UN
Banda Aceh, Aceh, Feb. 8 (AFP): The United Nations on Tuesday pronounced the often chaotic relief effort to aid Indonesian tsunami victims a success but warned that the toughest part of the operation was still to come.
“The peak of the emergency operation is behind us,” said Joel Boutroue, the UN’s deputy coordinator in Aceh province, which was home to most of Indonesia’s estimated quarter of a million disaster dead.
“I would like to say, all in all, in hindsight it has been a fairly successful operation, thanks in great part to the government of Indonesia.”
But with the US and Australian militaries — key components in the emergency relief operation — scaling down their presence, Boutroue said the hardest work lies ahead as the humanitarian effort moved into the long-term.
“Without being facetious, I would say that in a way it was the most easy part and the difficult part starts now. We’re going into a transition phase where we need to be more focused,” he told reporters.
Boutroue’s positive assessment came in contrast to earlier reports of poor coordination, which led to bottlenecks of aid supplies building up at airports as thousands of starving people were stranded on remote stretches of coastline.
Problems could be clearly seen last week. Mountains of soaking clothes were left lying on beaches along Aceh’s devastated west coast, with no transport to take them to those in need.
The WHO’s director of health action in crises, David Nabarro, last week issued a scathing assessment of relief operations, saying the UN could have moved more quickly to prevent delays in delivering aid to those in need.
Rice stock in Aceh ‘safe’ for four months: Agency
Banda Aceh, Aceh, Feb. 8 (Antara): The Aceh provincial disaster mitigation and refugees handling agency said on Tuesday that rice stock in tsunami-ravaged Aceh province is enough for four-month consumption.
The rice stock stands at 27,672 tons as of Tuesday enough to feed the pre-tsunami population of 4.2 million residents. Currently there are more than 412,000 people live in 66 refugee shelters scattered in 18 regencies and mayoralties.
The agency also said that it had distributed 5,306 tons of rice to refugees by Tuesday. Other supplies included 2.99 tons of sugar; 8,268 cans of canned fish; 95,702 boxes of milk; 8,218 boxes of mineral water and 24,146 blankets.
The agency also expected to relocate the refugees next week to temporary barracks. The relocation will facilitate faster and easier distribution of aid packages.
The barracks will also have better sanitation than current makeshift shelters.
The Jakarta Post
Tuesday, February 8, 2005
German medics give their all in Aceh
By Fadli and Urip Hudiono, Banda Aceh
From the outside the Zainal Abidin Hospital looks more like a shipwreck than a medical center.
Sand, mud and debris still choke many of the hospital’s courtyards, while useless medical equipment — damaged beyond repair by the surging water — stands idly in its hallways.
However, despite its outward condition, the hospital has managed to stay open, playing a vital important role providing post-tsunami medical services to the public, thanks to a mix of local and foreign medical teams who began to clear the premises a few days after the disaster — among them, the German medics.
The team, consisting of 30 Medical Corps doctors and 120 supporting army soldiers under the command of Col. Dr. Cristoph Wachter, established a medical center for tsunami victims at the hospital on their arrival on Jan. 8. The team works closely with other medical teams from Australia, Singapore and the United States.
“We are here to provide as much assistance as possible to the people of Aceh,” German Medical Team press officer, Lt. Col. Walter Hubert Schmidt told The Jakarta Post.
Schmidt explained the medical center — set up within a compound of tents at one of the hospital’s courtyard — was equipped with a surgery, laboratory, two intensive care units and a 12 beds, enabling the team to treat an average of some 70 patients each day.
“We have so far treated about 1,150 patients, who were mostly suffering from open wounds,” he said. “We have also assisted Indonesian doctors giving vaccination shots to some 1,300 people living in refugee camps.”
Schmidt said the German team also had a similar hospital at sea — aboard the Berlin, a German navy hospital ship anchored off the coast of Banda Aceh. With more facilities, the ship is also equipped with two helicopters for medical evacuations.
“We recently evacuate
d a dengue fever patient on board for treatment,” he said. “The evacuation was also a measure to prevent any possible outbreaks of the disease on land.”
The team was not satisfied with only temporary health solutions, however, he said.
Its next mission in Aceh would be to help fully rehabilitate the Zainal Abidin Hospital in cooperation with the German Federal Agency for Technical Relief (THW), which had previously helped restore its electricity and water supplies.
“We will restore the hospital’s surgery rooms, ICU wing, laboratories, and X-ray rooms” he said. “We will also provide the hospital with any necessary medical equipment and train Indonesian doctors to operate it.”
With repairs to the hospital underway, Schmidt said the team’s humanitarian mission in Aceh would be completed by mid-March — in line with the government’s request to gradually replace military personnel with civilians by March 26.
“What is important is that we have given all the help that we could have given, both to any needy patients and to the Indonesian doctors” he said. “Afterwards, I’m sure the Indonesian doctors will be able to carry on after we leave the country.”
February 8, 2005
UN Likely To Move Aceh Aid Compound For Security Reasons
Banda Aceh, Indonesia (AP)–The United Nations will likely relocate its relief headquarters in Indonesia’s tsunami-hit Aceh province for security reasons, a top U.N. official said Tuesday.
But Joel Boutroue, U.N. deputy humanitarian coordinator, stressed that the United Nations “does not expect to be a target” of an attack.
“We will probably have to change site, find a new compound,” Boutroue told The Associated Press, adding that there were “structural weaknesses” in the current compound’s walls and fences.
“Where we are now is not optimal… from a security perspective,” he said.
Boutroue didn’t say what prompted the security reassessment.
The decision to move follows the appointment last month of a British counterterrorism expert, David Veness, to a new post overseeing security for U.N. operations in more than 150 countries.
Officials have sought to boost security for staff worldwide after an Aug. 19, 2003, bombing at the U.N. headquarters in Iraq killed 22 people, including top envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello.
Al-Qaida-linked suicide car bombers have targeted Westerners in Indonesia three times in the past three years, most recently bombing the Australian Embassy in Jakarta in September 2004. Local and foreign governments have repeatedly warned that the militants are planning more attacks.
In September 1999, rampaging Indonesian army troops besieged the U.N. compound in East Timor’s capital, Dili, after the people of the former Indonesian province voted for independence.
The U.N. compound in Aceh’s provincial capital, Banda Aceh, currently houses about 100 aid workers. It is surrounded by a gate, and police guards outside let in only U.N.-authorized vehicles.
Boutroue said U.N. officials needed to begin checking cars entering the site, a standard security procedure at buildings occupied by Westerners elsewhere in Indonesia.
The United Nations has been in charge of a massive international relief effort for survivors of the Dec. 26 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami. More than 110,000 people in Aceh died in the disaster, and hundreds of thousands more were left homeless.
February 9, 2005
Indonesia’s tsunami dead and missing rises to 243,530
Jakarta (AFP): Indonesia’s health ministry said on Wednesday another 1,183 corpses had been found, bringing the number of people dead and missing after December’s earthquake and tsunami to 243,530.
The ministry told AFP the number of people confirmed dead and buried had increased to 115,628 while the number of people missing and almost certainly dead remained at 127,774.
Officials say the missing will only be confirmed dead after one year.
February 9, 2005
Marine experts at tsunami talks urge more work on ecosystems
Bremen, Germany (DPA): German and Indonesian marine experts called Tuesday for more efforts to be made to preserve natural environments in the Indian Ocean regions as a way of offering greater protection against tsunamis.
A conference of marine scientists in Bremen said that alongside a tsunami early-warning system the region needed an organization to manage the protection of coastal regions.
The conference at the Bremen Center for Tropical Marine Ecology said an intact ecological system could reduce considerably the damage caused by a tsunami.
Marine scientist Claudio Richter from the center said mangroves and coral reefs acted as natural ramparts against the sea. The flood damage caused by the recent Indian Ocean tsunamis was at its most devastating where the natural barriers were absent, he said.
The scientists called for more sewage treatment plants to be built along sensitive coastal regions to reduce pollution and also for reductions in the use of fertilizers.
Research has shown that pollution including decades of over-fertilization had eaten into sensitive coral reefs which collapsed under the force of the tsunamis.
The Bremen center’s director, Venugopalan Ittekkot, said the waters around Indonesia with its more than 17,500 islands were of global importance with the world’s greatest variety of corals, mangroves, seaweed and fish.
The center is coordinating for the German government research carried out by German oceanographic institutes and universities with tropical countries. It includes the Science for theProtection of Indonesian Coastal Marine Ecosystems (SPICE) program, a German-Indonesian research initiative.
February 9, 2005
Tetanus vaccines rushed to elephants clearing tsunami-hit Banda Aceh
Singapore (DPA): Tetanus vaccines are being rushed from the Singapore Zoo to tsunami-battered Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where elephants helping in the cleanup are at risk of tetanus, a deadly muscle-stiffening disease, wildlife officials said on Wednesday.
After more than a month spent clearing shattered homes and picking up belongings, the tired animals trudge back to camp daily after six- hour shifts often with wounds from nails, glass and mangled metal.
Their veterinarian, Dr. Christopher Stremme, issued a plea to the international zoo community for the vaccines.
Dr. Chris Furley, chief veterinarian of Wildlife Reserves Singapore, operator of the zoo and other facilities, said the shots, given twice over a one-month span, could protect each elephant for five years.
The first vaccines were sent by Australia last month.
Another 10 elephants might also be mobilized, Stremme told The Straits Times.
“The difficulty is the surroundings,” Stremme was quoted as saying. The elephants are “tired, sometimes stressed” in the hot and dusty climate, he said, and some have deep tissue cuts.
Trained in logging, the elephants have been helping families who cannot afford tractors and excavators to clear the rubble from the Dec. 26 earthquake-triggered tsunami, which hit Indonesia the hardest.
More vaccines will be
sent if needed, Stremme said.
February 10, 2005
Task of collecting Indonesia’s tsunami victims
could continue beyond June, aid official says
The gruesome task of retrieving the dead in tsunami-hit Indonesia was supposed to end by June, but with so many corpses still being found in the rubble, the search could go on longer, an aid official said Thursday.
Volunteers from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies have been helping a government-led effort to collect and bury victims of the Dec. 26 earthquake and tsunami in Aceh province, on the northern tip of Sumatra Island.
Indonesian officials have said they expect the death toll to rise for weeks by an average of 500 a day.
Red Cross spokeswoman Yrsa Grune said the search could stretch on for months.
“The plan was to continue until June. Now, it might be that plan will have to be revised,” she said. “It’s inevitable. Every time you lift a stone you might find something under it because there’s still lots of rubble.”
Grune said body collectors were working 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Most work stopped on Thursday, the Islamic New Year, a national holiday.
“It’s hard and difficult work… it’s very hard to walk around and there are lots of swampy areas and on top of that there’s rubble and fallen trees,” she said.
Aceh was hardest hit by the disaster because it was closest to the epicenter of the magnitude-9 quake which triggered waves that killed more than 160,000 people in 11 Indian Ocean nations.
Indonesia’s confirmed death toll stands at 116,396, with another 127,774 people still unaccounted for, according to the National Disaster Relief Coordinating Board. The figures were last updated on Wednesday.
Most of the missing are feared dead, but can’t be legally declared so for a year. The missing tally might also mistakenly include refugees who fled the area, officials say.
The National Disaster Relief Coordinating Board’s figures are matched by the Health Ministry. A third agency, the Social Affairs Ministry, initially put the death toll at 123,198 and the number of missing at 12,046, but has stopped updating its figures.
Acehnese ask shamans to help find tsunami missing
By Dan Eaton
Banda Aceh, Indonesia, Feb 11 (Reuters) – Many desperate families in Indonesia’s Aceh province are turning to traditional magic men to learn the fate of loved ones still missing more than six weeks after the Asian tsunami.
Hundreds of people are flocking to shamans, known as “dukun,” with photographs of children and other relatives, hoping to determine if they survived the Dec. 26 earthquake and giant waves that left more than 230,000 dead or missing on Sumatra island.
Standing on the porch of a shaman’s house, Mariamah, 40, is searching for her brother’s family. She said she had been told by one dukun that all five, including three children, were dead and she was getting a second opinion.
“I went to a dukun in another village, but he said all of them were dead. That can’t be,” said Mariamah, wearing a black Muslim head scarf and green tunic.
“I decided to see this one, and he said he saw my niece was safe. I will talk to more family members and find out where the girl is. She is only nine.”
Photos of missing children can be seen stuck up all over the provincial capital, Banda Aceh — in shop windows, on fences and on notice boards at refugee camps and hospitals.
The number of parents missing children and children missing parents is a reminder that the psychological damage from one of the world’s worst natural disasters may never heal, festering long after the rebuilding of homes and livelihoods.
Hafidh Alfairus, 29, is a musician who says since the age of 12 he has possessed special powers that enable him to divine the future and find missing people.
The long-haired man with a wispy goatee explained through billows of cigarette smoke that before the tsunami struck, he ran a thriving business doling out supernatural advice.
Now he sees about 100 clients a day, most seeking children or other family members missing since the tsunami.
“Almost all of them. So, I started to focus only on working on those missing people. I also heal people, like helping people who want to have a child or whatever,” said the youthful shaman.
After being shown a picture of a missing child, Alfairus scribbles the name in Arabic on a white card.
Staring into the distance he concentrates on the name and then pronounces whether he believes the person is dead or alive. Sometimes he says he even divines the person’s location, before accepting a donation equivalent to a few dollars for his efforts.
Aid workers operating in the dozens of refugee camps around Banda Aceh say many parents tell stories of their youngsters being torn from arms by the rushing waters.
Children made up a large portion of the dead because they were too weak to hold on to anything.
A handful of aid groups and government departments is working to reunite children with families.
At its dusty headquarters in Banda Aceh, Save the Children has a list of displaced youngsters pinned to a notice board.
“These are 178 who have been registered as separated from their parents, and parents come up here every day to look at the list,” said agency spokesman Mike Kiernan.
But for those unable to find their youngster’s names on lists, shamans are one of the few places to turn.
And when that fails?
“I tell them to put the photos on local TV or advertise them in the newspapers, because too many people are coming, thousands of them… I am only human,” said Alfairus.
(Additional reporting by Reuters Television)
AFP, Feb. 11, 2005
200 Indonesian tsunami survivors hit by suspected food poisoning
Some 200 people in a camp for tsunami homeless in Indonesia’s Aceh province have been hospitalised for what was believed to be food poisoning from eating tainted noodles, officials said.
The incident late yesterday is believed to be the first outbreak of its kind in the dozens of makeshift camps holding many of the 400,000 people whose homes were destroyed in the December 26 disaster.
Abu Bakar, the chief of Panah Pasir, an area in northern Aceh, said the sick were taken to hospital in the coastal city of Lhokseumawe because they began vomiting and foaming at the mouth shortly after consuming the noodles.
The batch of dried food was taken from emergency supplies at the camp for 2,100 people. Their origin was not immediately known, but thousands of tonnes of rations have been distributed around Aceh to feed disaster survivors.
Despite fears of widespread disease in the camps for displaced people, there has been relatively little illness, with just a few isolated cases of measles and tetanus.
Jum’at, 11 Februari 2005 04:46 WIB
Di Tanah Pasir, Aceh Utara
Ratusan Pengungsi Keracunan
Tanah Pasir – Ratusan pengungsi asal kemukiman lapang, Kecamatan Tanah Pasir, Aceh Utara, Jumat (10/2) tadi malam, dilarikan ke Rumah Sakit Cut Meutia, Lhokseuma
we, dalam keadaan lemas. Mereka diduga keracunan makanan jenis mie instan. Sebagian besar korban adalah anak-anak di bawah umur.
Sampai pukul 21.30 WIB, korban masih terus berdatangan dari Tanah Pasir ke RSUD Bukit Rata. Mereka rata-rata dalam kondisi lemas dan muntah-muntah, disertai mulut berbuih. Karena jumlah korban yang terus bertambah, para korban terpaksa dibaringkan di lantai dan teras RSU. Keluarga korban tampak rata-rata gelisah dan menangis mohon ampun kepada Allah. “Pada umumnya keluarga korban sangat panik dan ketakutan,” kata Mukim Lapang yang mengaku sangat jengkel dengan kejadian ini.
Direktur RSUD Cut Meutia, dr Hamdani Oesman, yang kebetulan tadi malam sedang di Medan, kepada Serambi mengakui, pihaknya telah menerima laporan tentang musibah keracunan mie isntan di kamp pengungsi. Seluruh dokter seperti dr Muhayat, dr Mukti, dr Furqan, dan Rachmawati, serta seluruh perawat, telah diperintahkan langsung menangani pasien yang telah masuk ke RSU.
Oesman menambahkan, pihaknya juga meminta semua apotik yang ada di Lhokseumawe supaya melayani seluruh order obat selama 24 jam. Karena dalam kondisi seperti itu, yang paling penting adalah cairan infus. “Pemilik apotik semua telah kita telepon. Cairan infus kita butuhkan dalam jumlah banyak dan tidak boleh terputus,” katanya. Kepala Mukim Lapang, Tgk Zainal Abidin kepada Serambi tadi malam mengatakan, sedikitnya seratusan warga Desa Matang Baroh, Kuala Cangkoi, dan Kuala Keureutoe, telah menjadi korban. Peristiwa itu dibenarkan
Camat setempat, Abubakar S Sos.
Menurut keterangan yang diperoleh Serambi tadi malam di RSUD Cut Meutia, para pengungsi yang mendiami lapangan sepakbola Tanah pasir, seperti biasa tiap hari mendapat jatah mie instan dari panitia posko. Makanan itu pun dikonsumsi tanpa curiga, lazimnya hari-hari biasa di pengungsian.
Kamis kemarin, panitia posko kecamatan, sekira pukul 16.00 WIB, membagikan mie instan yang di bungkusannya bertuliskan ‘MIYOJO merek HOT’ pada masyarakat di kamp pengungsi asal Kemukiman Lapang. Setelah makan nasi bersama mie tersebut, sejumlah pengungsi mengaku pening kepala dan terhuyung-huyung, kemudian muntah-muntah, disusul buih putih yang keluar dari mulut.
“Sangat mengerikan. Di seluruh kamp pengungsi terdengar orang menangis,” kata Kepala Mukim Lapang, Zainal Abidin tadi malam. Dia mengaku tidak ada mobil untuk mengangkut korban ke RSUD Bukit Rata, sekitar 20 Km dari lokasi pengungsian. Camat Tanah Pasir, Abubakar, tadi malam mengatakan, mie tersebut belum diketahui mereknya dan sudah diamankan untuk sampel. Tapi, kata Abubakar, pihaknya sempat melihat pembagian mie tersebut sore sebelumnya. Kata dia, mie tersebut tak diketahui bantuan dari mana. Yang jelas, tatkala datang ke posko, sudah tak terbungkus rapi dalam kotak, layaknya mie instans lainnya.
Suasana di RSU sampai larut malam terlihat sangat mencekam. Semua ibu rumah tangga dan famili korban menangis di samping anak-anaknya. Namun sampai berita ini diturunkan, belum ada korban yang meninggal akibat keracunan itu.
Sementara Kabag Humas Pemkab Azhari Hasan SH yang dihubungi tadi malam di RSUD mengatakan, kasus keracunan para pengungsi itu telah ditangani Polsek, camat, dan Komandan Koramil Tanah Pasir. Muspika sedang melakukan penyidikan asal-usul bantuan tersebut dan jenis mie apa yang membuat mereka keracunan. Menurut Azhari, bukan hanya satu jenis mie yang dikonsumsi masyarakat tanah pasir. Karena itu harus diselidiki dulu mana yang menjadi sumber keracunan, katanya.(ib/min)
Bupati Aceh Utara Larang Konsumsi Mi Instan
Reporter: AK-7 – Aceh Utara, 2005-02-11 12:18:38
Aceh Utara, Acehkita. Untuk mengantisipasi kemungkinan kasus keracunan lain, Jumat (11/2), Bupati Aceh Utara HT Alamsyah Banta melarang distrubusi dan konsumsi beberapa merk mi instan bantuan di wilayahnya.
Hal disampaikan Alamsyah Banta saat dimintai keterangan tentang insiden keracunan yang hingga kini menyebabkan 133 orang masih di rawat di rumah sakit.
Dia juga mengaku telah berkoordinasi dengan posko bantuan kabupaten dan kecamatan untuk tidak menyalurkan merk mi instan tertenu yang pernah dikonsumsi warga pengungsi di kamp Kecamatan Tanah Pasir.
“Untuk sementara kita stop dulu penyaluran jenis merk mi itu. Kita perlu lihat kembali dan periksa secara detail, apa masih layak makan atau tidak,” katanya.
Menurutnya, bantuan kemanusiaan yang datang dari berbagai sumber dan donator dengan sistem penyaluran yang beda-beda, sangat menyulitkan pihak pemerintah daerah untuk melakukan kontrol. Sebab, tidak sedikit para relawan atau donatur yang langsung mendistribusikan ke tangan pengungsi.
“Jika mereka salurkan lewat posko pemda, kita kan punya waktu untuk memeriksanya,” ujar Bupati tanpa bersedia menyebutkan bantuan tersebut berasal dari mana.
Namun menurut informasi yang dihimpun acehkita dari sejumlah warga di Rumah Sakit Umum Daerah (RSUD) Cut Meutia, Lhokseumawe, bantuan mi instan dengan merk terkenal yang dibagikan relawan dan petugas posko itu berasal dari sebuah gudang milik kecamatan.
Masih menurut mereka, gudang tersebut, saat tsunami (26/12) digunakan sebagai tempat mengumpulkan jenasah. Namun setelah jenasah-jenasa tersebut dikebumikan, bangunan gudang itu dibersihkan dengan kaporit. [dan]
U.N. Not Taking Chances in Indonesia
By Christopher Bodeen
Banda Aceh, Indonesia, Feb. 12 (AP) – In this tsunami-ravaged Indonesian city, the streets couldn’t seem safer. Rifle-toting Indonesian soldiers patrol while children head off to school. Shoppers cram makeshift markets, and unarmed troops from foreign powers deliver aid.
But the United Nations is pushing ahead with plans to fortify the headquarters of its relief effort in Banda Aceh for survivors of the Dec. 26 earthquake and tsunami.
While U.N. officials say they aren’t worried about an attack, the tighter security underscores an uneasiness about the prospect of disorder in an area that has been a battleground for government and separatist rebel forces for nearly three decades.
Bo Asplund, the top U.N. official in Indonesia, says the new security measures announced this week are only natural for a staff of roughly 100 that is settling in and focusing on long-term rebuilding.
But he quickly adds: “We usually, like most aid agencies, don’t talk much about our security matters.”
Aceh province, on the northern tip of Sumatra island, is mostly peaceful, except for the occasional clashes between government troops and separatist rebels in areas far from the tsunami relief effort.
But the longer aid workers stay, the more they’ll be exposed to a host of possible concerns, ranging from a flare-up of the Free Aceh Movement separatist insurgency to Islamic fundamentalist groups that might view foreign aid workers as proselytizing foot-soldiers of the West.
U.S. government officials and security analysts point to the Saudi Arabian-based International Islamic Relief Organization as one potential worry.
Though its leaders deny any ties to terrorism, the group propagates the strict Wahhabist interpretation of Islam that is considered the bedrock for Islamic extremism and a guiding force for the Saudi-born al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.
Indonesian troops also draw their fair share of suspicion. The country’s military is routinely accused of human rights abuses, and its gunbattles with Acehnese separatist rebels has left tens of thousands of people dead since fighting broke out in 1976.
Indonesian forces even attacked the U.N. compound in East Timor in 1999, after the people of the former Indonesian province vot
ed for independence.
The U.N. compound in Aceh would be particularly vulnerable if attacked.
The bloc of buildings has a college campus feel to it. On a recent afternoon, nobody checked identification as people streamed in and out. Only U.N.-authorized vehicles were allowed to enter the premises, but others parked directly outside the gates, in front of buildings housing officials.
Since an Aug. 19, 2003, bombing at the U.N. headquarters in Iraq killed 22 people, including top envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello, U.N. officials have sought to boost security for their staff worldwide.
That threat is very real in Indonesia, where al-Qaida-linked suicide car bombers have targeted Westerners three times in the past three years, most recently bombing the Australian Embassy in Jakarta in September 2004. Local and foreign governments have repeatedly warned that the militants are planning more attacks.
Joel Boutroue, U.N. deputy humanitarian coordinator in Aceh, cited the “structural weaknesses” of the U.N. compound in Banda Aceh and said more security checks would be implemented.
U.S. aid groups show little of the concern that grips U.N. officials.
“We’re more worried about (earthquake) aftershocks,” said Mike Kiernan, a spokesman for the charity Save the Children.
Some militant groups in Aceh don’t hide their resentment of outsiders – or their desire to safeguard their faith.
The Islamic group Laksar Mujahidin’s 60 volunteers have spent weeks performing the grim task of collecting bodies and giving tsunami victims a religious burial.
Abu Anshar, a wiry 30-year-old and part-time trader who acts as the group’s spokesman, said reports of foreigners wearing crosses and complaints of missionary activity have aroused their suspicions that aid groups intend to convert Muslims. In other parts of Indonesia, the group has fought deadly battles with Christian militias.
“If they (foreign troops and aid workers) stay here for very long, there is the possibility of something happening as in other Muslim countries – such as Iraq,” said Anshar, at his group’s base in a farmhouse near the city’s airport.
“We are the troops. We await orders from central command,” he said.
However, Sidney Jones, an expert on Indonesian terrorist groups with the International Crisis Group in Singapore, believes groups like the Laksar Mujahidin are more talk than action. They enjoy little support among the Acehnese Muslims, who practice a tolerant form of the faith and have welcomed foreign aid groups, she said.
“Even for them, attacking aid missions would be going too far,” Jones said.