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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 March, 2005, 20:12 GMT
UN agency pulls out of Aceh
Aceh survivor outside UNHCR tent
The UNHCR is helping to feed and shelter Aceh's homeless
The UN refugee agency has announced it is withdrawing from the tsunami-hit Indonesian province of Aceh.

The UNHCR's pullout comes ahead of the introduction of new restrictions on foreign aid agencies doing only emergency relief in the region.

Jakarta apparently failed to approve the agency's plans, which include the large-scale building of new homes.

Correspondents say Jakarta has uneasy relations with the UNHCR, which it distrusts over ethnic Acehnese aims.

Regional UNHCR representative Robert Ashe expressed disappointment, but said his staff were happy to return if asked.

The Indonesian government originally set a target of 26 March - three months after the Indian Ocean tsunami - for the withdrawal of all foreign aid agencies which are not contributing to long-term reconstruction.

Last week this deadline was extended by a month, but Mr Ashe said his agency had already set the withdrawal in motion.

But UN humanitarian chief Jan Egeland told the BBC it should be up to the agencies themselves to decide when to leave.

"I have concern that there are public statements along the line of deadlines," he said. "I have the hope and belief we will avoid abrupt deadlines."

Difficult relationship

The Indonesian government says the target date, now set at 27 April, was necessary to consolidate efforts and provide security.

But correspondents say the government may be concerned that the presence of foreigners is giving greater exposure to Aceh separatists and highlighting alleged human rights abuses by the military.

The UNHCR has had an especially difficult relationship with Indonesia, they say, with many in Jakarta blaming the agency for allegedly turning the East Timorese against them.

But in recent months the agency has been involved in helping to feed and shelter many of the 500,000 Indonesians who lost their homes in the tsunami.

It says it has spent $7m, but another $33m of funds raised are still unused and may be returned to donors.

There are no plans for any other UN agencies to withdraw.

More than 220,000 Indonesians died or are still missing after the tsunami.

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