Foreign soldiers assisting the tsunami relief effort in Indonesia's devastated Aceh province will have to leave by the end of March, the Jakarta government said today.
The Indonseian vice-president, Jusuf Kalla, said troops should be gone "the sooner the better", and added that three months should be enough time for them to complete their work.
The announcement came as Indonesia moved to assert greater control over the relief effort. The government is believed to be grateful for the help offered, but uneasy about the number of foreign aid workers and soldiers in Aceh, where seperatists have been fighting government troops for decades.
Aid workers were today told that their safety could not be guaranteed outside Banda Aceh, the main city, and the ravaged town of Meulaboh, and ordered to declare their travel plans or risk expulsion.
Indonesia's military has warned that separatist fighters could rob aid convoys and use refugee camps as hideouts, but has yet to offer evidence to support its claims.
A government statement said it would be "placed in a very difficult position" if any foreigner who came to Aceh was harmed, but Clive Williams, an Australian defence expert, told the Associated Press that the Indonesians wanted to conceal military corruption.
"The big problem with dealing with [the Indonesian military] in Aceh is that they're involved in a lot of corruption there, and the reason I think they don't want people to go to some areas is because they're involved in human rights abuses," he said. "Having a situation of martial law and then civil emergency has allowed them to get away with a lot."
Well. It is their country.