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Treat Terror Threats With Caution

Monday 21 February, 2005
Press release # 7


The sources of yesterday’s warning from the Australian Foreign Minister that humanitarian aid workers face an imminent threat of terrorist attacks need to be analysed and treated with caution, says Caritas Emergencies Officer, Tim Chiswell, recently returned from Aceh.

“Certainly there are periodic real threats against foreigners in Indonesia and since the tsunami the arrival of groups such as the Islamic Defenders Front and the Indonesian Mujahadin Council in Aceh has compounded that situation. That is why agencies such as Caritas have well thought out security procedures in place”, says Mr Chiswell. “But this is also a complex situation and there are many agendas at work. There are those who have an interest in propagating fear and promoting a withdrawal of international humanitarian workers from Aceh.”

Prior to the 26th December, civil emergency legislation in Indonesia decreed that Aceh was effectively under military rule and was off limits to journalists, human rights workers, and most expatriates. While this was relaxed shortly after the tsunami, barely a fortnight later, the Indonesian vice-President Jusuf Kalla announced that foreign troops should leave, and this message has been repeated regularly.

“The international presence in Aceh has been very important, not only in the delivery of humanitarian aid, but also in bolstering the space in which local Aceh organisations and the media have to report on the situation. This is a huge change from the period of Martial Law and it would be disastrous if unverified threats of potential terrorist attacks were to undermine that change,” says Mr Chiswell.

“Any heightened concern on security will also likely lead to a strengthened military operation in Aceh. This will further reduce the prospects of a clear return to civilian government which is the main hope for a peaceful resolution to the conflict”.

“While Australia is unlikely to reveal the source of its intelligence it is vital that these be investigated thoroughly and not taken at face value. Even the US government, often a source of intelligence for the Australians, has questioned whether there is any heightened risk of terror attacks. So has the Indonesian Government”

“During my visit, it was absolutely clear that the Acehnese people very much want international presence to stay, and as far as possible, we should aim to do that”, says Mr Chiswell.


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