Troops in Aceh for aid, not fighting: Howard
10 January 2005
Australia would not be involved in military operations in the troubled Indonesian province of Aceh, Prime Minister John Howard said today.
Australia has sent about 900 troops and set up hospitals, water purifying plants and other services in Aceh in the wake of the December 26 tsunami disaster.
There have been reports of rebels and Indonesian troops fighting near relief efforts, continuing a three-decade old battle for independence.
Mr Howard said he did not anticipate any requests for Australian help in military operations, nor would the government respond to such requests.
"We are not engaged in military operations in Indonesia and we won't be and we don't expect any requests to be," Mr Howard told CNN today.
"What we are engaged in is a humanitarian aid operation which involves, inevitably, military personnel, just as the United States has employed military personnel to help in the aid effort - a lot of them."
Mr Howard said the government was monitoring the fighting in Aceh but did not believe it was hampering the aid effort.
"That is something that we will keep a very careful eye on as will our military," he said.
"But thus far we believe the security situation can be handled effectively and it's not in any way impeding the deliver of aid, particularly the medical aid which has been on the ground from the very beginning."
Responding to a call by the United Nations Association for Australia to play a peacemaking role in Aceh, Mr Howard said the aid effort was the best contribution Australia could make.
"We are not in the business of picking sides - that is an internal domestic matter for Indonesia," he said.