u.n. wants indonesia to lift military aid deadline

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    U.N. wants Indonesia to lift military aid deadline
    07:20, Friday, 14 January 2005

    UNITED NATIONS, Jan 13 (Reuters) - The United Nations
    appealed to Indonesia on Thursday to lift its March deadline on
    foreign military relief operations in Aceh province but said a
    second wave of deaths from disease in tsunami-hit nations had
    probably been averted.

    Some 118,000 people of the estimated 160,000 killed by last
    month's tsunami were in Aceh. Half a million people in the
    province are homeless and some 2,000 to 3,000 bodies wash
    ashore each day, Jan Egeland, the U.N. emergency relief
    coordinator, told a news conference.

    The Indonesian government is edgy about a foreign presence
    in areas where separatists have fought the army for three
    decades for a homeland on Aceh, on the northern tip of Sumatra
    island, the most devastated region after the Dec. 26 earthquake
    and tsunami in the Indian Ocean.

    Vice President Jusuf Kalla said on Wednesday foreign troops
    should leave Indonesia by the end of March or "the sooner the
    better," saying the emergency would be over in three months.

    Egeland contended that extensive military relief flights,
    which are the only way to reach inaccessible areas, could end
    by March, but a deadline would not save lives.

    "I am sure the Indonesian government will agree with me the
    most important thing is to save lives and not have deadlines,"
    he said in a speech to the Asia Society in New York before his
    U.N. news conference.

    The United Nations has obtained on loan 10 helicopters for
    civilian aid flights to supply fresh water and ferry in doctors
    over the next year and Egeland expected them to be in Aceh "for
    as long as needed, maybe a year."

    He said he no longer feared that disease would cause as
    many deaths as the tsunami did because of the lack of fresh water and medical facilities and overcrowded shelters.

    "I do not think it is a right prediction any more that as
    many people can die from the second wave as we then feared in
    the beginning," Egeland said.

    There has been an outbreak of measles in the city of Banda
    Aceh but, he said, "doctors were dealing with that problem."

    Indonesia also wants relief workers to get permission to
    travel through many areas of the country and says its army has
    to accompany foreigners to the western coast of Aceh because of
    rebel attacks.

    Egeland said there were times relief workers needed army
    escorts but he was worried about insecurity in general or
    political restrictions. His deputy, Marietta Wahlstrom, is
    currently in Banda Aceh to get restrictions clarified.

    "Humanitarians do not like military escorts," he said. They
    accept such escorts in exceptional cases and ask for them only
    when the situation is very dangerous, Egeland said.

    "We have an important meeting in Indonesia to clarify both
    the issue of when the military assets would have to leave, if
    at all, and also the question of possible reporting and
    restrictions on movement outside of (the towns of) Banda Aceh
    and Meulaboh," he said.

    The United States has also asked Jakarta to explain the new
    restrictions. The U.S. aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln off
    Aceh with its 10 helicopters proved a major boost to the Aceh
    relief effort. Singapore, India and Australia have also
    supplied helicopter carriers off Indonesian waters.
    ((Reporting by Evelyn Leopold; Reuters messaging:
    [email protected]; +1-212-355-7424))

    (c) Reuters Limited 2005
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