Indonesia wants foreign troops out
Indonesia told foreign troops helping tsunami victims to get out of the country "the sooner the better" and defended tough new restrictions on aid workers, while rich nations prepared to freeze Jakarta's debt repayments.
Vice President Yusuf Kalla said foreign troops should leave tsunami-hit Aceh province on Sumatra island as soon as they finish their relief mission, staying no longer than three months, state media reported.
"Three months are enough. In fact, the sooner the better," Kalla was quoted by the state Antara news agency as saying.
United Nations officials struggling to coordinate a massive relief operation have welcomed their participation, particularly to deliver aid to isolated coastlines accessible only by sea or air.
But their presence in Indonesian territory has been a sensitive issue for the world's largest Muslim-populated nation which has traditionally kept foreign military, particularly the United States and Australia, at arm's length.
The vice president said Aceh in the near future would need foreign medical workers and engineers instead of military assistance.
"Foreign troops are no longer needed," he said.
Kalla's comments came after the country's military imposed sweeping new restrictions on foreign relief workers operating in Aceh, claiming they were in danger from rebels waging a long-running separatist war.
Analysts have said they believe the move was an attempt to reassert the military's control over the province, an accusation the government has denied.
Senior officials said foreign journalists would also be confined to major towns in the province, closing a post-disaster window of press freedom in the region which was locked down almost two years ago during a military offensive.
Indonesian troops have already begun accompanying United Nations missions to help victims of the tsunami and liaison officers are to be posted on the scores of foreign navy ships and military and civilian aircraft bringing thousands of tonnes of emergency supplies into the stricken area.
Despite statements from Free Aceh Movement rebels, known as GAM, pledging the safety of volunteers, Welfare Minister Alwi Shihab said the government was concerned that attacks on aid staff could scare off foreign assistance.
Indonesia's director of disaster relief in Aceh, Budi Atmadi, said the new regulations were also aimed at improving coordination for the huge aid operation, which has been hampered by lack of clear organisation.
"The purpose of this is not to restrict access, but to coordinate activities of all organisations to avoid overlap and assist in planning future operations."
More than 50 aid organisations have been working with foreign military task forces to bring relief to many areas isolated by destroyed roads and rugged mountains.
The United Nations says that while it does not believe its workers are under threat, the new regulations will not hinder its efforts.
Meanwhile, government creditors in the Paris Club of wealthy nations were set to agree at a meeting in the French capital Wednesday on freezing debt repayments by Indonesia and Sri Lanka, the country hit second hardest by the tsunamis.
Indonesia's foreign debt comes to around 132 billion dollars (100 billion euros), and the country is looking at three billion dollars in payments this year to service that debt.
On Tuesday, the United Nations secured 717 million dollars in record time for tsunami victims in Asia -- 73 percent of a 977-million-dollar appeal launched last week to meet immediate needs in the next six months
UN humanitarian relief coordinator Jan Egeland said after a donor's conference in Geneva it was the first time the world body had collected so much money in such a short space of time after a disaster.
"This has never ever happened before, that we, two weeks after a disaster, have 717 million dollars that we can spend on an emergency relief effort," Egeland told reporters.
Egeland said he was confident that the appeal for six months would soon be met in full. Of the 717 million dollars, 250 million alone is from Japan.
Some nine billion dollars has been pledged worldwide in short and long term aid after the disaster.
The figure, obtained by an AFP count, includes government money, donations pledged in an unprecedented outpouring of global public sympathy -- "humanity at its best," Egeland said -- as well as debt relief and loans.