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Wolfowitz: U.S. can hand over relief work to Indonesia, others



Published: Sat, January 15, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



About 3,000 tsunami survivors the equivalent of $3 a day to help with the cleanup.

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia (AP) -- Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz flew across the devastated wasteland along the Sumatran coast Saturday, voiced pride in the American aid operation but said Washington wants to hand over relief work to Indonesia and other affected nations as soon as possible.

The Indonesians "have welcomed us in a way that might have been unimaginable in other circumstances," Wolfowitz said aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln anchored off the Indonesian coast.

In the ongoing recovery work in Indonesia's Aceh province, the United Nations Development Program started paying about 3,000 tsunami survivors the equivalent of $3 a day to help with the cleanup -- an attempt to kick start the region's crippled economy.

The U.N. refugee organization, the UNHCR, was distributing 10,000 five-person tents to survivors in the city, agency officials said, with 10,000 more expected soon.

Fighting disease

Efforts to keep epidemics at bay intensified, with the United Nations accelerating a measles vaccination drive after 20 cases of the disease were reported across Aceh.

Tetanus also has been detected in 67 people, said Medecins Sans Frontieres, or Doctors Without Borders. Because the disease has an incubation period of up to 60 days, that number is expected to increase. Tetanus has a mortality rate of up to 25 percent.

Aid workers were spraying tents and walls with insecticide to kill mosquitos and prevent malaria in areas that were swamped by the killer waves.

More aid teams will be heading to the ravaged coastal city of Meulaboh, including doctors who will establish a mobile clinic, said Roberta Rossi, a spokeswoman for USAID.

The United States is keen to use its big aid and recovery effort, which has included many U.S. ships and thousands of troops, to boost American standing in the Muslim world, where Indonesia is the most populous Islamic country.

Unease

Jakarta, nevertheless, has expressed unease over the number of foreign troops and wants them out by the end of March. Wolfowitz, a former ambassador to Indonesia, said the United States respects that concern and had no intention of interfering in Indonesia's domestic affairs.

"We don't have a plan other than to try as quickly as we can to hand over responsibility to others, and especially to the Indonesian government as they're ready to take that on," he said.

Adding to Indonesian sensitivity, the bulk of the devastation on Sumatra Island hit Aceh Province where separatist rebels have been fighting against the central government for years.

"Indonesians are very self-reliant people. So before long, they probably won't need the help," he said later in Banda Aceh, the provincial capital.

After touring the damage zone, Wolfowitz declined to comment on Jakarta's demands that the United States lift a long-standing ban on selling weapons to Indonesia's military. Earlier this week, Indonesian officials argued that the country could have better responded to the disaster if its forces were better equipped.

Exploitation

But human rights groups and congressional supporters of the ban say Jakarta is exploiting the disaster for political gain, and insist that the 23-year-old ban should remain until Indonesia addresses unresolved human rights violations.

Wolfowitz said the Indonesian government had the chance to quell the Aceh separatists if the reconstruction effort in the province is a success and shows the "benefit of being part of Indonesia."

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.




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