The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Militant threat to aid groups

Banda Aceh (Indonesia), Jan. 11 (Reuters): Indonesia told aid workers helping tsunami victims in its worst-hit region, Aceh, today not to venture beyond two large cities on Sumatra island because of what it said were militant threats.

Indonesia's head of relief operations said agencies would need permission to work outside the provincial capital, Banda Aceh, and the ravaged west coast town of Meulaboh. Asked if Aceh was unsafe for international aid workers, Budi Atmaji said: 'Yes, in some places.'

However, separatist rebels said they would never attack aid workers ' who in turn said they were not overly worried. Huge waves triggered on December 26 by an earthquake 150 km out to sea from Meulaboh killed at least 157,000 people around the Indian Ocean ' 105,500 in Indonesia, 30,000 in Sri Lanka and 15,000 in India.

A militant Indonesian Islamic group warned foreign aid agencies today not to stray from their humanitarian mission.Hundreds of volunteers from the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) are helping retrieve corpses from the debris of the killer tsunami.

The group said it considered non-governmental organisations ' numbering more than 40 ' and foreign military in Aceh to be 'friends' provided they remained focused on their aid relief work in the province on the northern tip of Sumatra island.

'We can work together. But if they came here with some hidden agenda ' colonialism, imperialism or missionary, I think this is very, very dangerous, and very, very complicated,' Hilmy Bakar Almascaty, central board chairman for the FPI, said. The FPI, known for raiding and trashing Jakarta nightspots that sold alcohol during Ramazan, is one of many small militant groups that sprang up after the 1998 downfall of President Suharto, who suppressed radical Islam.

Separatist GAM (the Free Aceh Movement), which has been waging a decades-long battle for independence in Aceh, has deplored the presence of the FPI.

Forensic operation

Interpol and 20 national police forces launched history's biggest disaster victim identification system to unravel the mesh of forensic data from the bodies, hundreds of which were to be exhumed for checks after hasty burials right after the tsunami.

Adding to the anguish of relatives, experts at the makeshift police headquarters on the tsunami-hit island of Phuket said putting names to all the corpses ' cross-referencing dental records, fingerprints and DNA from bodies and from the missing ' could take months.

'It wouldn't be unreasonable to expect that this will go longer than six months,' said Jeff Emery, an Australian police expert in charge of about 60 detectives, doctors and pathologists from a score of nations. Interpol said it would also help identification efforts in other countries, but along the coast of Sri Lanka, Indonesia and elsewhere, thousands of victims lie buried in unmarked graves.

At a meeting in Geneva, the UN urged donors to set a record by meeting in full its $1.0 billion appeal for immediate aid to tsunami victims.

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