Restricting military could hamper aid: UN
13 January 2005
The United Nations is concerned that new Indonesian restrictions could create bottlenecks in the delivery of aid to tsunami victims by apparently requiring military escorts for humanitarian workers, a senior UN aid official said today.
Margareta Wahlstrom, the UN coordinator for aid to tsunami victims, met Indonesian authorities today to clarify the announcement by Indonesia's chief of relief operations and to assess the operational impact, "if any," said Kevin Kennedy of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
"We certainly well understand there has been a conflict in Aceh for the last quarter of a century," Kennedy said.
"However, we're concerned that any requirements that would create any additional bottlenecks or delays or otherwise adversely reflect our operations need to be reviewed very carefully."
Indonesia's chief of relief operations, Budi Atmaji, issued a statement today ordering international aid groups and reporters to inform the government of their travel plans outside of the capital, Banda Aceh.
The statement also said that if groups head to regions considered dangerous "then their safety will be organised by the national security authority". It did not elaborate and it was not known if that meant aid organisations may get military escorts.
Kennedy told reporters the United Nations' initial understanding of the announcement is that "humanitarian staff operating in Aceh province should register with the government".
"There's no problem with that," he said. "They have free movement within the areas of greater Banda Aceh and Meulobah."
But the United Nations understands "movements outside these two locations should be requested to the authorities, and also - and we have to confirm this - that on the western side of Sumatra military escorts would be required," he said.
Kennedy said UN relief teams have gone to some of those areas since the tsunami struck. "We have not experienced any security incidents," he said.
The coast of Sumatra was closest to the epicentre of the December 26 earthquake that triggered a tsunami which swept across the Indian Ocean to east Africa. The government said the disaster killed more than 105,000 people in northern Sumatra and displaced tens of thousands.
Atmaji's statement said some areas of Aceh were not safe because of Free Aceh Movement rebels, who have fought for years for a separate homeland on Sumatra island's northern tip. Indonesia has long been wary of foreigners' presence in Aceh because of accusations of human rights abuses committed by the military in its campaign to stamp out the insurgency.
Kennedy said UN policy is to operate without military escorts but it will accept them if security requires, as in Burundi where the military was essential to ensure delivery of humanitarian aid.
"We would obviously prefer not to operate with military escorts. If our security threat assessment indicates that it is not required we would not use them. But we remain flexible as required," Kennedy said.
"Obviously ... several of our partners that we work with have official positions that they will not use military escorts under any circumstances," he said.
Kennedy said the United Nations has been conducting security assessments in Aceh, which he would not disclose.
He said he hopes to report tomorrow on the clarifications Wahlstrom received and "what if any procedures have been put in place".
UN relief operations in Sumatra and the greater Aceh area "continue to accelerate," Kennedy said, though some logistical problems remain.