- The Washington Times - Friday, January 14, 2005

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia — Masked workers with mosquito-killing spray guns began moving through refugee camps yesterday in tsunami-battered Aceh province, trying to prevent an outbreak of malaria.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he would name a special envoy next week to coordinate relief and reconstruction in the 11 countries hit by last month’s earthquake and tsunami that killed more than 157,000 people, two-thirds of them in Indonesia.

Mr. Annan, speaking to reporters at a conference in the Indian Ocean nation of Mauritius, did not explain how the envoy’s role would differ from that of the U.N. emergency relief coordinator, Jan Egeland, who has been responsible for coordinating tsunami aid.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz planned to visit Thailand today to discuss relief efforts. No other details of his trip were announced, but a U.S. Embassy official in Bangkok said privately that Mr. Wolfowitz would then travel to Aceh province, which suffered the most damage in the Dec. 26 catastrophe.

A senior Islamic leader meanwhile warned foreign relief workers of a serious backlash from Muslims if they bring Christian proselytizing to tsunami-struck Sumatra island along with humanitarian help. Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim nation, and Aceh is particularly conservative.

“All nongovernmental organizations, either domestic or international, with hidden agendas coming here with humanitarian purposes but instead proselytizing, this is what we do not like,” Dien Syamsuddin, secretary-general of the Indonesian Council of Ulemas, or religious scholars, said at Friday prayers in the main mosque of Banda Aceh, the provincial capital.

He also condemned reports the U.S.-based welfare group WorldHelp had planned to adopt 300 Acehnese children orphaned by the disaster and raise them in a Christian children’s home.

The group said Thursday it had dropped the idea.

“This is a reminder. Do not do this in this kind of situation,” Mr. Syamsuddin said. “The Muslim community will not remain quiet. This a clear statement, and it is serious.”

While the threat of cholera and dysentery is diminishing because clean water is reaching tsunami survivors in Indonesia, the danger of malaria and dengue fever epidemics is increasing, according to the leader of anti-malaria efforts in the region.

“Short-term, we’re trying to prevent an epidemic,” said Richard Allan, director of the Mentor Initiative, a public health group that fights malaria epidemics. “And it may already be too late.”

Mr. Allan warns that 100,000 more people could die of malaria around Aceh if quick action isn’t taken. A successful spraying effort would drastically minimize that risk.

The pools of saltwater created by the tsunami have been diluted by seasonal rains into a brackish water, creating the perfect breeding ground for mosquitos.

A fumigation operation started yesterday with a small team of sprayers planning to cover up to eight refugee camps around Banda Aceh. The main spraying effort won’t begin for at least two days because most of the insecticide has been held up by bureaucratic delays in Jakarta, where three planeloads of insecticide are waiting for clearance to fly to Banda Aceh, he said.

In Sri Lanka, more than 25,000 people displaced by the Dec. 26 tsunami left relief camps in the past 24 hours to return to rebuild their villages, the United Nations’ refugee agency said yesterday.

U.S. helicopters flew into eastern Sri Lanka yesterday, ferrying about 30 tons of relief materials, including fresh fruits and vegetables. The tsunami killed about 31,000 people in Sri Lanka and rendered 800,000 people homeless.

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