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Foreign troops given Aceh deadline -

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Foreign troops given Aceh deadline

AM - Thursday, 13 January , 2005 08:14:14

Reporter: Rafael Epstein

ELEANOR HALL: For the second time in as many days, the Indonesian Government is moving to reassert
its tight control of the tsunami stricken province of Aceh.

After placing restrictions on aid workers, the Government has now announced that Australian and
United States troops must leave Aceh within three months.

At the same time, the Indonesian military is increasing its presence, sending in four battalions of
medical workers and engineers as it seeks a bigger role in aid work in the province.

From Jakarta, Rafael Epstein reports.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: US marines are helping to rebuild towns, Australian Air Force planes are flying in
supplies, and doctors from Singapore's army are helping out in hospitals. That may all be welcome
now, but from the Vice President, comes a warning. It may be political rhetoric, but it's also a
boost for the Indonesian military.

The Vice President Yusuf Kalla says all foreign troops should leave Indonesia within three months.
In fact he said the sooner they leave, the better.

His Cabinet colleague, State Secretary Sudi Silalahi says the central government wants to increase
its resources in Aceh so it can take over humanitarian operations. And the military is preparing to
do just that.

TNI Spokesman in Banda Aceh, Colonel J Nachrowi, says four battalions of troops are on the way. Two
thousand are medical staff from the Marine Corps, and 2,000 are engineers, accompanied by 75
bulldozers and trucks.

Colonel Nachrowi says foreign aid groups are not being pushed aside, they'll continue to work
alongside the Indonesian Army.

COLONEL NACHROWI (translated): Of course we need good coordination so that all aid gets to each
point safely. In a time of disaster like this, miscommunication is most likely to happen. So we are
trying our best to minimize it by making people leave their names when they come in and out of

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: As well as telling the Indonesian military about their travel outside major areas,
aid workers may also be required to have army escorts. And while there are concerns the Indonesian
military will use aid work as a pretext for reasserting control, there's considerable scepticism
among western aid groups about whether and how military restrictions on them would actually be

United Nations aid co-ordinator in Aceh, Michael Elmquist, says the current restrictions on aid
work have not, so far, delayed their efforts.

MICHAEL ELMQUIST: This is a completely legitimate requirement for the TNI because it is a conflict
zone, and they do need to know where foreigners are moving around in order to give us adequate
protection. We have not been restricted in any movement and it has not delayed any of our aid

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: And what about the three-month limit on troops from foreign armies?

MICHAEL ELMQUIST: Having foreign troops here is extremely expensive for the consulate provided and
they were most like to disappear in any case, after a month or two. I don't think it really makes
any difference.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: The Australian Embassy in Jakarta and the Defence Minister's office in Canberra,
say they've not been told of the three-month limit, but they stress Australian troops remain for
now at Indonesia's request.

Before the tsunami, Aceh was under a law of state emergency, tightly restricting foreign access,
and it would have been impossible for western aid groups, let alone US and Australian troops to go
there. But Aceh's separatist conflict has claimed 10,000 lives and the Indonesian military wants to
protect its long-term political, strategic and economic interests.

In Jakarta this is Rafael Epstein, reporting for AM.