Monday, February 21, 2005

Archival Rescue 5 ~ Aus "Intell"

John Howard ~ making up it again?

Australia's lone stand on terror threat
By Matthew Moore, Mike Seccombe Mark Metherell and Matthew Thompson
February 21, 2005

The Indonesian Government and United States intelligence cast doubt yesterday on Australian claims of an increased terrorist threat to aid workers in tsunami-devastated Banda Aceh.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer, said he had seen intelligence reports suggesting a possible bomb attack against Australian and other aid workers in the region.

Simultaneously, the Department of Foreign Affairs posted a travel advisory warning that only those aid workers with large, recognised agencies with comprehensive security plans and Indonesian military support should stay. All others, particularly individuals intent on doing good work, should get out.

However, the intelligence that led to the upgraded assessment appeared to be unknown to the Indonesians yesterday. The head of the Indonesian military's relief efforts in Aceh, General Bambang Darmono, said he had "never heard" anything about it.

Asked if he had received any information on the matter from Australian intelligence or military forces, he replied "none".

General Darmono's remarks echo those of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who told a press conference in Aceh late on Saturday he was unaware of any threat. "There is no evidence that there will be a threat to aid workers, but of course I do ask my apparatus to maintain the harmony, to maintain co-ordination synchronising all emergency relief efforts done by many organisations," he said.

The Indonesian Army also said it was unaware of any information about a planned attack. "We heard some rumours, but we haven't got any hard facts on the threat to foreign workers," Brigadier-General Hotma Panjaitan told Reuters.

Similarly, a spokesman for the Indonesian national police, Inspector Lubis, as well as the chief spokesman for the Indonesian Foreign Affairs Department, Dr Marty Natalegawa, said no warnings had been passed on.

A spokesman for the United States embassy in Jakarta, Max Kwak, said the US had been told the Australian information was not new. "We will not be changing our travel warnings or anything like that," he said.

But a spokesman for Mr Downer, Chris Kenny, said last night: "We put the warning out there in good faith, and we stand by it. I can't talk specifically about this piece of information, but you can rest assured we would share information like this with the Indonesians."

The Prime Minister, John Howard, damned those responsible for the threat. "It is immensely distressing that at a time like this, people should be threatening violence and terrorism," he said from New Zealand. "It is a reminder of who we are dealing with. It is beyond the pale in every sense of the word, given the absolute horror that the people of Aceh have been through."

He said the threat of violence by terrorists was "a reminder of the depraved human beings they are".

Despite the warning and Mr Howard's alarming words, the executive director of the Australian Council for International Development, Graham Tupper, said he knew of no affiliated agencies withdrawing from Aceh. "They'll have to review their security arrangements, but I don't think it makes a very big impact at this stage."

However, at least one big international aid agency in Aceh was on alert last night after Australia's warning.

CARE International said it had seven Australians and other foreign staff working in Aceh and outlying islands, and security arrangements had been upgraded.

Mr Tupper said agencies signed up to the council and its code of conduct - including World Vision Australia - were likely to have credible security plans and be in touch with the authorities about threat levels.

However, there were "any number of other groups that we haven't had any history with", he said. These groups are not signatories to the council's code, which requires organisations to protect the safety of their staff and refrain from using aid to promote a political group or religion.

One organisation operating in Aceh without being a signatory is the Church of Scientology, whose website reports Australians as being among its ministers in tsunami-affected areas to "alleviate the present time discomforts" and teach locals to become counsellors. The church could not be reached yesterday for more detail.


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