Indonesia to Investigate Tsunami Aid Groups

Indonesian authorities will investigate the work of humanitarian relief groups operating in tsunami-wracked Aceh province to determine which organizations will be allowed to remain in the region, the government said Tuesday.

The announcement comes just days after authorities lifted an earlier deadline for all foreigners to leave the province on the tip of Sumatra province by March 26, four months after the disaster that killed over 126,000 people and left more than 90,000 missing there.

International groups that wish to help with reconstruction will have to fill out forms explaining their projects and sources of funding by April 27, said a statement released by the office of Alwi Shihab, the senior government minister in charge of reconstruction of the province.

"After the information is gathered and the mapping of the organizations is complete, the government ... will then determine which humanitarian organizations are vital to the rebuilding of the province," the statement said.

Before the Dec. 26 disaster, Aceh had been off limits to foreign visitors since 2003, when the Indonesian military ended a cease-fire with independence-seeking rebels and launched a series of offensives aimed at crushing the 30-year insurgency. About 3,000 people have died since, and human rights groups have accused the army of killing hundreds of unarmed civilians during its anti-guerrilla sweeps.

Relief groups fear that despite the magnitude of the tsunami disaster, the government may be planning to return to its policy of excluding foreigners due to concerns that their presence is giving greater international exposure to the separatist Free Aceh Movement and highlighting human rights abuses by the military.

The rebels immediately declared a unilateral truce after the earthquake and tsunami, but government forces have kept up anti-insurgency operations in the worst-affected areas.

Some analysts say the presence of hundreds of foreigners also is making it difficult for the military and government bureaucrats to siphon off foreign reconstruction aid -- a practice common in past emergencies in Indonesia, one of the world's most graft-ridden nations.