Indonesia tells independent foreign aid workers to leave quake zone

Indonesia tells independent foreign aid workers to leave quake zone
Soldiers unload food aid from a Singapore Armed Forces supply plane at Mutiara Sis Al-Jufri Airport in Palu, Indonesia.
PHOTO: Reuters

PALU, Indonesia - Indonesia on Tuesday ordered independent foreign aid workers to leave the quake zone and said foreign groups with staff in the disaster area on Sulawesi island should pull them out.

Indonesia has traditionally been reluctant to be seen as relying on outside help to cope with disasters, and the government shunned foreign aid this year when earthquakes struck the island of Lombok.

But it has accepted help from abroad to cope with the aftermath of a 7.5 quake and tsunami that hit the west coast of Sulawesi on Sept. 28, killing at least 1,948 people.

Despite that, some foreign groups say they have faced difficulties getting entry permits to bring in staff and equipment, and there has been confusion about the rules.

There have long been restrictions on the activity of foreign aid workers, and the national disaster agency, in a notice posted on Twitter, set the rules out for foreign non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

Foreign groups are not allowed to "go directly to the field" but must conduct all activities "in partnership with local partners", it said.

"Foreign citizens who are working with foreign NGOs are not allowed to conduct any activity on the sites affected," it said.

"Foreign NGOs who have deployed its foreign personnel are advised to retrieve their personnel immediately," the agency said in its English-language notice.

The official death toll in Sulawesi stood at 1,948 on Tuesday, with most of the fatalities in Palu, a small city that bore the brunt of the disaster.

No one knows how many people are missing, especially in areas of southern Palu devastated by soil liquefaction, but it could be as high as 5,000, the national disaster agency said.

About 70,000 people have been displaced.

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