Tuesday, January 11, 2005

From combined dispatches

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Separatist rebels from the tsunami-struck province of Aceh yesterday deplored the presence of two Muslim terrorist groups helping survivors, saying they were using aid to push a religious agenda.

The Free Aceh Movement (GAM) said in a statement from its government in exile in Stockholm that the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) and the Indonesian Mujahideen Council (MMI), which incudes Laskar Mujahidin, “would squander scarce resources.”

The statement branded the two groups as “criminal organizations” and said they were not welcome in Aceh.

“The actions and words of FPI and MMI contradict Islamic teachings and the tolerance and faith of Acehnese Muslims,” it said.

The self-styled prime minister of the government in exile, Malik Mahmud, told Reuters news agency that their brand of militant Islam was not acceptable in Aceh, which fought Dutch colonialists and Japan’s World War II occupation, and whose campaign is fueled by a centuries-old nationalist movement and not by religion.

“What we don’t like is they make people more confused about the situation under the pretext of giving aid, and give their version of Islam, which we think is very radical,” he said in a telephone interview from Stockholm.

“They say things like the tsunami happened because Indonesia did not accept Shariah law in Aceh,” Mr. Malik said.

More than 150,000 people were killed in the earthquake and ensuing tsunami that hit Aceh and nations throughout the Indian Ocean rim on Dec. 26.

MMI was founded in August 2000 with the avowed aim of promoting the adoption of strict Islamic law in secular Indonesia.

The group’s founder is radical cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, the suspected leader of Jemaah Islamiah, which authorities say is part of the al Qaeda network.

The FPI was one of many small militant groups that sprang up after the 1998 fall of former President Suharto and made a splash by attacking nightclubs, brothels and other entertainment venues deemed an affront to Islam.

In a related development, Indonesia’s military asked aid groups in tsunami-stricken areas yesterday to create a list of international relief workers — and to report on their movements — claiming the move was needed to protect foreigners.

The request underlined the unease with which Indonesia has faced the growth of the largest aid operation in history, replete with foreign soldiers, civilian humanitarian workers and Muslim terrorist groups in close proximity.

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.

The MMI includes Laskar Mujahidin, which is known for its ninja-style, black-masked terrorists who have hunted down and killed hundreds of Christians in other parts of Indonesia.

The presence of the Muslim terrorist groups has prompted the United Nations to put its staff on high alert and to hire armed guards to patrol their compounds.

Joel Boutroue, head of the U.N. relief effort in Aceh, said he did not think 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.”

On another front, the United Nations said yesterday it is taking steps to protect the global tsunami-relief campaign to guard against improprieties like those in the oil-for-food program for Iraq.

The United Nations has accepted a no-fee offer from the PricewaterhouseCoopers accounting and consulting firm to help track aid to victims of the giant wave that smashed into Southeast Asian and East African coastlines on Dec. 26, said Kevin Kennedy, a senior official in the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

In the hard-hit Indonesian village of Meulaboh, residents watched with wonder and relief the landing of U.S. troops bringing aid.

“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.”

Ten Marines landed yesterday, a smaller-than-anticipated number 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 with heavy rucksacks — waded through the surging waves.

President Bush said yesterday the United States has a duty to continue helping the tsunami’s victims.

After hearing Secretary of State Colin L. Powell’s firsthand report of damage in the region, Mr. Bush told reporters “we’ll see” if the United States will give more than the $350 million in relief already pledged.

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, injuring two persons.

The crash was blamed on mechanical failure.

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