BANDA ACEH, Indonesia – Indonesia’s military asked aid groups in tsunami-stricken areas Monday to draw up a list of international relief workers – and to report on their movements – as fears arose for the safety of foreigners helping survivors in a region wracked by rebellion long before the waves hit.
The request underlined the unease with which Indonesia has faced the growth of the biggest aid operation in history, replete with foreign soldiers and civilian humanitarian workers.
Indonesian authorities have long been wary of foreigners’ presence in the tsunami-stricken Aceh province, where separatists have been fighting government troops for more than 20 years. Foreigners were banned from the province at the northern tip of Sumatra island until the earthquake hit Dec. 26, touching off the tsunami.
Although the government has portrayed the rebels as ruthless killers willing to attack aid convoys and use refugee camps as hideouts, the military has yet to offer evidence to back its claims. Clashes between Indonesian troops and separatists have subsided since the disaster.
However, security concerns have also been heightened by the appearance of an Islamic extremist group with alleged links to al Qaeda. The group, Laskar Mujahidin, which has been involved in armed clashes with Christians in other parts of Indonesia, is distributing aid and has promised not to attack foreigners.
United Nations staff in Aceh are on high alert and armed guards patrol their compounds.
Joel Boutroue, head of the U.N. relief effort in Aceh, said he did not believe Indonesia was trying to impede aid efforts with its request for information.
“It’s normal they want to know where people are,” he said. “I think it’s a legitimate concern for the security of relief workers, considering the environment in which we’re working.”
In the hard-hit village of Meulaboh, residents watched the landing of U.S. troops bringing aid with wonder and relief.
“We have lost everything. We can’t think about the future,” said Rajadin Amkar, who lost his wife and newborn daughter. “They can think about these things. It’s reassuring.”
Only about 10 Marines landed Monday, because of Indonesian government concerns about security and the presence of foreign troops. U.S. military helicopters have been bringing in aid for more than a week.
About 100 Marines also went ashore in southern Sri Lanka for the first time, bringing heavy machinery to clear devastated areas. Dozens of residents converged on the palm-tree studded beach in Koggala town to watch as the Americans – most of them loaded down with heavy rucksacks – waded through the surging waves.
President Bush said Monday the United States has a duty to continue helping the tsunami’s victims but he did not put any more money behind his commitment for long-term assistance. After hearing Secretary of State Colin Powell’s firsthand report of damage in the region, Bush told reporters “we’ll see” if the United States will give more than the $350 million in relief already pledged.
Canada, meanwhile, increased its funding for tsunami relief from $65 million to $345 million Monday, following criticism that Ottawa had given too little, too late. The new funding includes $215 million in emergency aid and $130 million over five years for reconstruction.
In Indonesia, fears of epidemic increased after medical teams detected two unconnected cases of measles and quickly vaccinated more than 1,000 people in nearby villages. Altogether, UNICEF is vaccinating some 600,000 survivors in Sumatra’s devastated regions.
Relief supplies to Aceh province were halted briefly by the crash of a U.S. Seahawk helicopter. The chopper went down in a rice paddy about 500 yards from the airport in Banda Aceh, the provincial capital and the hub of the aid effort.
Lt. Cmdr. John M. Daniels, a U.S. military spokesman aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, said one person fractured an ankle and another suffered a dislocated hip. The other eight sailors on board suffered “no significant injuries,” he said.
He blamed the Monday morning crash on a “possible mechanical failure.” U.S. authorities said there was no indication the helicopter had been shot down.
Meanwhile, Indonesia’s government promised to intensify efforts to recover – and bury – tens of thousands of victims of the tsunami, which killed more than 150,000 people in 11 countries. Workers dug into the soft earth in the driving rain, hoisting the corpses into water-filled pits and heaping dirt over them.
Welfare Minister Alwi Shihab said 58,281 bodies had been buried in the shattered northern tip of Sumatra and some 50,000 more were “scattered” around the region.
Soldiers in gas masks moved debris in an effort to clear rubble and free corpses entombed in flattened buildings. Their stench still hangs over some areas of the provincial capital.
In Thailand, by contrast, forensics experts exhumed hundreds of bodies to extract DNA samples amid concerns they may include Westerners misidentified as Thais. The bodies had initially been buried in sandy trenches north of Khao Lak because there were not enough refrigerated containers to hold them.
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