Wednesday, January 12, 2005

The Times might need to look a little closer at what's going on in Banda Aceh

Jane Perlez has a front page story on this morning New York Times entitled "Indonesia Puts Curbs on Relief In Rebeal Areas: Military Escort Needed for Rural Aid Work" (

The Indonesian military on Tuesday ordered restrictions on foreign aid workers, limiting their free operation to the two main cities hit by the tsunami in an effort to assert control over international relief operations here.
Outside those cities, Banda Aceh and neighboring Meulaboh, aid workers will need special permission to go into more remote areas where hundreds of thousands of people were uprooted by the disaster, Indonesia's military commander, Gen. Endriartono Sutarto, said in a news conference here.
. . .

The United Nations estimates that about 400,000 people in the province of Aceh were uprooted by the tsunami and says many of those victims are being sheltered in small towns and villages.
The new restrictions will enable the military to increase its presence in the countryside, where the rebels are strongest and where civilians fear Indonesian soldiers the most.

. . .
Before the tsunami, Aceh was virtually sealed off to foreigners. Martial law was declared in May 2003 and relaxed to a state of "civil emergency" the following year, as the estimated 30,000 to 40,000 troops severely weakened the rebels. Human Rights Watch, an advocacy group based in New York, and other organizations have consistently accused the Indonesian military of severe abuses of civilians.

Oh, okay. So in May of 2003 a "civil emergency" was declared and we're told that in passing. And now there's a crack down on aid workers. Seemes strange but the Times doesn't seem to alarmed by it. Anything to be worried about here?

EDDIE SUHERI: So, we are here today to let them know -- to let the world know that aid that they send to Indonesia is not received by people in need. So -- and according to my family and one -- and an activist that I called to contact to in Banda Aceh, and they said that, no, Indonesian military asked people to show their ID, and a letter from the administrator in order to have -- to get food -- to get aid. So, it doesn't make sense, because in this situation, they shouldn't ask for that, and you know how many people who still have ID? So, very ridiculous, I think.
AMY GOODMAN: Eddie Suheri, an Acehnese refugee, now in New York City going to LaGuardia College. We now turn to Aidel Abdul, who -- his plea to the world community not to give aid to the Indonesian government.
AIDEL ABDUL: I'd like to tell to the world, please don't give aid to Indonesian government. It's -- you know, it's going to mean nothing. The money going -- I mean is not going to our people. It's going to be corrupted by the peoples in the Indonesian government. Please, please. Enough is enough. Our people is starving. Our people is dying now.
AMY GOODMAN: Who should get the aid?
AIDEL ABDUL: People who are a victim -- tsunami victims [inaudible].
AMY GOODMAN: That was Aidel Abdul, speaking in front of the Indonesian Mission to the United Nations. We turn now to Cut Zahara , who could not bear to think about almost having lost her younger brother in the disaster in Aceh.


From the same Democracy Now! report:

AMY GOODMAN: In Washington, we are still joined by Bama Athreya of the International Labor Rights Fund. The protest yesterday, there was a very strong call for relief groups not to give money to the Indonesian government, to the Indonesian military, but to work with Acehnese and Indonesian human rights groups. What is your sense, Bama of what relief organizations are doing, because so many of them work through the governments?
BAMA ATHREYA: [inaudible] -- organizations have had limited access to Aceh, and one of our main concerns is that the relief groups need to have much better direct access. Frankly, they don't need the Indonesian military to deliver the aid. Yes, we know that roads have been washed out, that infrastructure has been destroyed; but, let's face it, groups like the Red Cross have a long, long history of going into disaster situations and being able to create and set up the sort of infrastructure that's needed to deliver food, medicine, et cetera. We are pushing now, and you know we think that relief groups as well need to be very vocal about demanding direct access to be able to deliver the relief themselves. That's the only way to insure that it's not diverted into the wrong hands, that the military doesn't sit on stockpiles or otherwise deny relief to the people who need it most.

I think the Times needs to address this issue in more detail than they do today. Hopefully they are already working on it.