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Catholic call for Govt to lobby Indonesia for Aceh humanitarian access

Melbourne's Catholic Commission for Justice Development and Peace has called on the Australian Government to assert the rights of aid agencies and journalists to do their work unhindered in Aceh.

The Commission saud the Indonesian Government must immediately provide domestic and international humanitarian agencies unhindered access to the people of Aceh. The Commission expressed alarm that the Indonesian Government has reportedly moved to make aid agencies distribute aid through the government and Indonesian Army in the strife torn province.

A statement released by the Melbourne Commission at the weekend says Australia should not be "sitting on the sidelines wringing its hands".

Hostilities in Aceh escalated two weeks ago. Late last week, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he is "deeply concerned" about the impact on civilians of renewed hostilities in the Indonesian province of Aceh. He cited reports of extra-judicial killings and the widespread burning of schools.

The Justice and Peace Commission has written to Foreign Minister Alexander Downer requesting a fact-finding mission from the Australian embassy be sent to Aceh to assess reports of human rights violations.

Executive Officer Marc Purcell said" "There is an urgent need for domestic and international aid agencies to be able to distribute their aid and operate their humanitarian programs unhindered and without the Indonesian Government compromising their independence."

"The reports that journalists are being hindered and that human rights activists have gone into hiding for fear of their lives are deeply disturbing. They should have access to the people of Aceh and to be able to freely move about and report what is occurring without fear of intimidation," he said.

Catholic Commission for Justice, Development and Peace (Melbourne)

UN fears for Aceh civilians (BBC)
Violence and displacement reach high levels in Aceh, Indonesia (Jesuit Refugee Service)
Catholic schools, churches still open in war-torn Aceh (28/5/03)
Concern mounts for Aceh as Indonesia launches military offensive (21/5/03)

2 Jun 2003