Sat, 12 Mar 2005

Soldiers stay cool despite Ambalat row

Nani Afrida, The Jakarta Post/Banda Aceh

The afternoon heat is stifling and several soldiers from the Royal Malaysian Armed Forces are enjoying their lunch in a tent on the Sultan Iskandar Muda military field in Banda Aceh.

"Come, join us for lunch. It's a bit like Acehnese food," a Malaysian military officer said to The Jakarta Post's reporter.

The Malaysian air force personnel also sleep in a tent on the field, outside which a Malaysian flag flies. The Pakistani, Spanish and Japanese armed forces are also occupying tents on the field.

The Malaysian soldiers are taking a break after dispatching telecommunication technicians to the western coast of Aceh by helicopter. The technicians are tasked with restoring the telecommunications network that was shattered by the tsunami.

They look relaxed, showing no signs of tension following the row between Indonesian and Malaysia over the Ambalat off-shore oil blocks.

The Malaysian government reportedly has no plans as yet to pull out its forces from Aceh.

According to Liet. Col. Abdul Manaf, a Royal Malaysian Air Force officer involved in the Aceh relief mission, they have been conducting aid delivery missions using two Apache helicopters and a CN235 airplane, procured from Indonesia, since Jan. 3.

They are still delivering aid even though many foreign troops have left Aceh. The Malaysian air force usually transports aid and victims to Teunom, Calang and Meulaboh areas.

Malaysia has deployed 57 air force personnel to assist Aceh. Besides the air force, Malaysia has mobilized hundreds of soldiers to operate makeshift hospitals located in Jantho, Aceh Besar, which according to Abdul Manaf, totaled approximately 500 personnel, not including personnel from the Malaysian police who had been tasked with evacuating bodies and cleaning up the town. However, the Malaysian police force left Aceh after the completion of their tasks.

"We are here on a humanitarian mission and have coordinated with the Indonesian Military regarding our tasks here," said Abdul Manaf.

According to Abdul, recent tension between the two countries has had no influence on the Malaysian troops in Aceh. They get along well with the Indonesian troops, working hand-in-hand to assist survivors.

"They (Indonesian troops) often fly with us in the helicopter. We keep attune of what is going on, such as with the electricity and water supplies," he said with a laugh.

They had kept track of the measures taken by both countries vying for Ambalat by watching TV, but had not been influenced by the dispute.

Abdul said that they always kept in mind that they were here on a humanitarian mission. He said they wanted to continue to help the tsunami survivors even though foreign troops are scheduled to leave Aceh on March 26.

"We are like a family. Our language is even the same," he added.





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