Mon, 07 Mar 2005

Japan troops bid sayonara to Aceh

Tiarma Siboro and Nani Afrida, The Jakarta Post, Banda Aceh

Japan withdrew on Sunday its 960-strong disaster relief mission from tsunami-devastated Aceh, marking the end of the country's largest overseas deployment since World War II.

The Japan Ground Self Defense Force Disaster Relief for Indonesia (GDRI) troops bode sayonara to the Acehnese people in a modest ceremony at Sultan Iskandar Muda air base.

"The Japanese government considers that the emergency phase is over, our task here is finished," Japan GDRI spokesman Lt. Col. Kadashi Inaba said after the ceremony.

United States troops completed their humanitarian relief mission earlier this month.

The U.S., however, maintains the presence of the UNSN Mercy hospital off the coast of Aceh. Around 200 operations have been performed aboard the ship since its arrival a month ago.

Other foreign countries, including Malaysia, Australia, Germany and France, also sent relief missions to Aceh after an earthquake and killer tidal waves wrecked the province and Nias Island in North Sumatra.

The deaths of more than 124,000 people were documented after the catastrophe and more than 110,000 others have been listed as missing presumed dead.

Foreign organizations, including two under the United Nations banner, have been told to leave Aceh by March 26.

Organizations excluded from the exit list include the World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Individual volunteers who have reported their presence will also be able to continue with relief work.

The Aceh Police have said they will get tough with foreign missions that fail to report their presence by the deadline.

A full GDRI team arrived in Banda Aceh on Jan. 25, when it began full-fledged activities by providing medical supplies, treating the sick and working to prevent malaria infection.

"I know there are many things left to do, but I guess the Indonesian government in cooperation with civilian volunteers is able to carry on," Inaba said.

Japan arrived to help tsunami survivors in mid-January and started to provide medical services, including a vaccination campaign only three days after it finished setting up emergency hospitals in Miboh and Lamara, both in Banda Aceh.

Before their departure on Sunday, the GDRI had served about 6,000 patients in total, 4,000 of whom were locals in Lamara, while the remaining 2,000 were in Miboh.

"Some medical staff will remain. We will not commence our medical activities until March 16," Inaba said, adding that on March 16 their work would be continued by local officials.

As part of its relief effort, Japan also provided three ships, five helicopters and two planes.

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