Sat, 31 May 2003

Govt sends aid to Aceh

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The government sent on Friday aid packages for 11,500 Acehnese students after last week's burning of several hundred schools during the war to flush out the separatists in Indonesia's westernmost province of Aceh.

From Aceh, the war has claimed at least 119 lives in its eleventh day on Friday, according to military estimates.

Throughout the province over 434 schools have been torched in mysterious arson attacks, depriving some 90,000 students of their education. The military blamed the arson attacks on the Free Aceh Movement (GAM).

"The 11,500 aid packages were sent to support the learning process of the poor," said the Minister of National Education A. Malik Fadjar as quoted by Antara.

Each package contains writing and drawing books, school bags and uniforms, stationery and sports outfits, among other things.

The ministry also said it would send 120 tents to be turned into make-shift classrooms capable of holding 60 students. The Indonesian Red Cross (PMI) will donate another 30 tents.

The aid announcement came shortly after United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) said it would send 300 aid packages and 800 tents for Acehnese students.

Late on Tuesday, three tons of medical supplies from the World Health Organization and Unicef along with their international workers arrived in Aceh.

On Wednesday, the Indonesian Air Force sent two Hercules aircraft to the province, carrying 3.2 tons of medical supplies from the health ministry and Indonesian Military (TNI) headquarters.

The planes also carried two ambulances and military vehicles to support the humanitarian operation.

Aceh, the only Indonesian province where Islamic law or sharia applies, would also receive Rp 38 billion to repair Islamic boarding schools, said Minister of Religious Affairs Said Agiel Munawar on Thursday.

The amount, he said, was a Rp 10 billion addition to the original Rp 28 billion from the 2002 and 2003 budgets to renovate Aceh's Islamic boarding schools.

But education is one of many humanitarian problems Aceh now faces since Jakarta declared an all-out war against GAM on May 19.

Some 40,000 military and police personnel have been sent to Aceh, and on Friday Jakarta dispatched another 600 police officers.

Fearing a rise in casualties, the Indonesian Red Cross warned it was short of blood as the war continued to escalate.

"As of now we don't have enough blood to care for the expected rise in casualties," said the provincial PMI spokesman Riya Ison as quoted by Antara on Thursday.

Riya said that daily demand for blood averaged between 20 and 30 bags. "That (amount) is just enough to help patients who must undergo surgery," Riya said and called on more Acehnese to donate blood.

Indonesia has launched its biggest military offense since the 1975 East Timor invasion, and imposed martial law in the province on May 19.

Many expect the flow of refugees to swell in the coming weeks driven by fear of increasing violence toward civilians.

On Thursday, TNI accused rebels of killing nine civilians during several attacks against villages, Antara reported, quoting Aceh Military Command spokesman Lt. Col. A. Yani Basuki. Last week, there were reports that the military was responsible for the death of some 10 civilians.

At least 92 rebels have been killed since the war began on May 19, AFP reported, quoting military figures. The death toll among civilians, however, has climbed to 15, higher than the military and police death toll of 12.

Meanwhile, State Minister of Communications and Information Syamsul Mu'arif said the government might hire an international public relations firm to counter negative press coverage on the Aceh war.

"Our international public relations efforts have indeed been weak," said Syamsul on Thursday. "That's why foreign media coverage (on the Aceh war) has been detrimental to us."

He admitted that the government was weak in directing public opinion into supporting the war.