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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 January, 2005, 15:41 GMT
Indonesia tightens Aceh controls
A German army medic prepares to vaccinate a child at an Indonesian refugees' camp in Banda Aceh, 11 January 2005.
There are fears the controls could hamper relief efforts
Foreign troops helping the tsunami aid effort in Indonesia's Aceh province must leave by the end of March, the government in Jakarta has said.

Foreign aid workers and journalists in the ravaged province must also now register travel plans, officials said.

Correspondents say the army wants to re-establish control over Aceh, where it has been battling separatist rebels.

The restrictions came as creditor nations discuss whether to freeze debts owed by countries hit by the tsunami.

The so-called Paris Club, whose members include the UK, France, Germany, Japan, Russia and the US, is due to meet in the French capital on Wednesday.

A proposed debt freeze for some countries already has the support of several leading club members, but questions remain over the terms of any deal.

While the meeting will address the long-term needs of the tsunami victims, in the short term, the worst hit country, Indonesia, is being given vital support by foreign soldiers.

ACEH: KEY FACTS
Province on the north-western tip of Sumatra
Higher percentage of Muslims than other parts of Indonesia
Gam rebels have fought decades-long separatist campaign
Year-long military crackdown beginning in May 2003 weakened Gam, but failed to capture senior members

Foreign troops operating in, or due to arrive in, Aceh include those from the US, Singapore, Australia, and Japan.

Their helicopters are enabling aid to reach remote communities on Aceh's west coast which were worst hit by the tsunami.

The Indonesian authorities first said they would limit the movements of aid workers on Tuesday, but more details have now emerged of those restrictions.

In future, all foreigners will have to register at a foreign affairs desk in Banda Aceh and complete forms detailing their current and planned activities, as well as any travel plans outside the provincial capital of Banda Aceh and its suburbs, and the devastated town of Meulaboh.

In other developments:

  • The UN educational, scientific and cultural agency, UNESCO, says a tsunami early warning system for the Indian Ocean could be up and running by the middle of next year
  • Sri Lankan authorities are investigating a man's alleged attempt to sell two tsunami orphans
  • Pop star Ricky Martin has met the Thai prime minister to discuss how he can help Thailand's victims
  • India has allowed the UN to visit the Andaman and Nicobar islands to vaccinate children
  • Religious leaders in Aceh have ruled that food does not need to be prepared according to Halal guidelines

The BBC's Andrew North, in Aceh, says that the regulations appear to have been imposed sporadically so far.

Some aid agencies have said they have not been informed of the new rules, while others have said they have been, but have not been restricted in their movements.

The head of the army, General Endriartono Sutarto, has told the BBC the move was necessary to protect foreigners from possible attacks by the separatist Free Aceh Movement (Gam).

The army and Gam have accused each other of breaking a temporary ceasefire imposed soon after the 26 December Indian Ocean tsunami hit. The military has also said the rebels have been stealing aid, though aid agencies have not reported any problems.

One aid agency working in the area, World Vision, said it did not expect the new restrictions to hamper its work. It said the announcement indicated the relief effort was entering a second, longer-term stage.

World Vision's James East told the BBC that an assessment team from his organisation took about 90 minutes to register with the authorities on Tuesday, and then was allowed to continue with its plans unhindered.

Before 26 December, Aceh was under emergency rule and was closed both to aid agencies and the international media, as Indonesia's military launched an offensive against the rebels, who are estimated to have lost more than 2,000 fighters over the past two years.




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