- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 9, 2005

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia — The Indonesian government warned aid workers yesterday that separatist rebels have taken shelter in camps for survivors, and a burst of violence in Sri Lanka threatened a resurgence of a long-simmering rebellion that could hamper help for tsunami victims.

Compounding the misery for tens of thousands of survivors living in little more than tents, tropical downpours complicated relief efforts already slowed by impassable roads and destroyed bridges.

Yesterday, a U.S. Navy helicopter with 10 persons on board crashed in a rice paddy as it was trying to land at the Banda Aceh airport on a relief operation, injuring at least two U.S. servicemen, a U.S. military spokesman said.

A military spokesman said there was no indication that the SH-60 helicopter had been shot down. The helicopter was flying personnel to the airport from the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier group off the coast of Sumatra at the time of the crash.

Decades-old conflicts in Indonesia and Sri Lanka lay dormant in the first two weeks after the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami struck, killing more than 150,000 people in Asia and Africa. But they threaten to reignite as aid workers pour into the region with emergency assistance, some traveling to areas where outsiders are hardly ever allowed.

The workers say they are being cautious, but won’t let concerns about the rebellions slow the flow of aid.

“We don’t believe that aid workers are targets,” said Joel Boutroue, head of the U.N. relief effort in Indonesia’s troubled Aceh province.

Ethnic tensions overshadowed U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s tour of devastated areas in Sri Lanka. Hundreds protested in Sri Lanka’s Tamil-dominated north after he acceded to a government request not to visit areas under rebel control.

“I’m hoping to come back and be able to visit all areas of the country, not only those repaired, but also to celebrate peace,” Mr. Annan said before heading to the Maldives. “The U.N. is not here to take sides.”

A rare burst of violence between Christians and Hindus in eastern Sri Lanka, where a massive aid effort is under way, revived security fears for relief workers there. At least three persons were killed and 37 were injured.

The Indonesian government warning offered no details about the infiltration into survivor camps, but was issued hours after police in the provincial capital, Banda Aceh, blamed separatists for nighttime gunfire close to the main U.N. compound in town.

Local military spokesman Ahmad Yani Basuki told the state-run Antara news agency that volunteers must understand that Aceh “is not like other regions in Indonesia.”

“This is still a conflict-torn region,” he said.

Indonesian authorities blamed separatist rebels for the shooting incident, near the house of a provincial police official. But the government routinely blames the rebels for violence, even without evidence.

“We were told by guards that it was probably one person shooting a few rounds, and that was it,” Mr. Boutroue said.

The rebels have waged a separatist war in Aceh for nearly three decades in a conflict that has killed thousands. An unofficial truce settled in after the Dec. 26 disaster, but recent skirmishes have prompted Indonesia’s military to step up patrols for the guerrillas.

Security concerns also have been heightened by the appearance of Laskar Mujahidin, an extremist group suspected of having links to al Qaeda. The group has set up an aid camp, but says it only wants to help and won’t target foreigners.

Still, the aid effort continued unabated, with the U.N. World Food Program sending 170 staffers. Other agencies have similar numbers in the region.

The U.S. military, with hundreds of personnel on ships near Sumatra and in Sri Lanka, said aid workers must be on guard in restive areas.

“Security is a constant planning factor in all that we do,” U.S. Army aid coordinator Maj. Nelson Chang said.

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