INDEPENDENT NEWS

People of Aceh Suffering Gravest Catastrophe

Published: Sat 1 Jan 2005 07:37 PM
People of Aceh Suffering Gravest Catastrophe
This appeal originated from TAPOL, the Indonesia Human Rights Campaign. The 'suggested action' section below has been modified by us for Aotearoa / New Zealand.
The people of Aceh are suffering the gravest catastrophe in their history in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami, which struck on 26 December 2004.
The devastation and humanitarian crisis are unprecedented. The official death toll is currently 52,000 [* update: the confirmed death toll has now reached 80,000 and is still rising]. The final figure could be as high as 100,000. Tens of thousands are homeless and facing the prospect of killer diseases.
The disaster has been compounded by chaotic mismanagement by the Indonesian authorities and the legacy of decades of violent conflict. A war has been raging in the territory since the 1970s between the Indonesian military and the separatist Free Aceh Movement, GAM.
The Indonesian government's response to the crisis has been slow, lacked coherence and demonstrated a reluctance, for political reasons associated with the conflict, to involve the international community. Currently just two helicopters have been deployed to assist with the immense relief and rehabilitation operation.
The government has severely restricted access to Aceh by international humanitarian organisations since the imposition of martial law in May 2003. Even now it is sending out mixed messages about the lifting of restrictions. Desperately-needed aid is being held up in Medan, North Sumatra.
Intimidation and violence against local NGOs by the security forces have incapacitated civil society and severely curtailed their ability to respond to the crisis.
It is essential that local and foreign organisations are allowed to operate freely in Aceh for an unlimited length of time. The role of the military must be restricted to humanitarian and reconstruction tasks. There must be no return to the oppressive military conditions which have caused so much suffering to the Acehnese and exacerbated the current crisis.
Rigorous steps must also be taken to ensure that corruption, which is an acknowledged problem in Aceh, is not allowed to dissipate the aid effort.
The needs of the Acehnese are now acute. Please do all you can to help them cope with this terrible tragedy.
TAPOL works with a number of grassroots humanitarian and human rights organisations in Aceh and is launching this appeal so that funds can be used by them to optimum effect where it is most needed by local people.
* Suggested Action
1) Make a donation, however small, to the Aceh Relief Fund, details are available online at http://www.converge.org.nz/pma/tsunami.htm If you don't have a credit card, or it is difficult for you to transfer money overseas, then you could instead give something to one of the NZ agencies listed there who are all involved in providing assistance to the people of Aceh, as well as to those in other tsunami devastated areas.
2) Please contact Phil Goff and your own member of parliament (preferably by phone with a follow-up letter, fax or email) and ask the government to press the Indonesian government:
- to lift all restrictions on access to Aceh by international humanitarian organisations, aid workers and journalists;
- to seek as much assistance as is necessary from the international community and allow aid to be delivered directly by international organisations;
- to limit the military's role to humanitarian and reconstruction tasks and permanently halt all other military activities in the province.
If you would like more information about the situation in Aceh, and an example of a letter to Phil Goff about this, see http://www.converge.org.nz/pma/aceh.htm
Contact details for Phil Goff, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, are: tel (04) 470 6553, fax (04) 495 8444, write to him at Parliament Buildings, Wellington (no stamp required, or email pgoff@ministers.govt.nz Contact details for all MPs are available online at http://www.ps.parliament.govt.nz/mps.htm - because of the summer recess, it would be advisable for you to contact your MP via their local electorate office.
Thank you.

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