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Indonesia tsunami reconstruction body ends Aceh mission

by Staff Writers
Banda Aceh, Indonesia (AFP) April 16, 2009
Indonesia's tsunami reconstruction agency wound up work in Aceh on Thursday, more than four years after deadly waves killed 168,000 people and devastated the province.

The headquarters of the Aceh-Nias reconstruction agency (BRR) was closed in a low-key ceremony, ending its responsibility for one of the largest disaster reconstruction efforts in history.

"We're changing this name plaque because the BRR finishes its mandate today," agency head Kuntoro Mangkusubroto told reporters at the ceremony in Banda Aceh.

"The job of Aceh reconstruction will be carried forward by the Aceh provincial government and six ministries."

The agency has been generally hailed as a rare success in a country renowned for graft and inefficiency, but it leaves behind a number of unfinished projects and concerns that its withdrawal will destabilise the local economy.

Mangkusubroto has acknowledged it had failed to meet the expectations of all victims.

"Building back an Aceh devastated by this disaster is not the same as building real estate because what we have faced here is wreckage and angry people, frustrated people, because their hope is for speedy development," he said earlier this week.

The 2004 tsunami, which killed more than 220,000 people, including in Sri Lanka, Thailand and India, led to an outpouring of international aid.

The BRR says it has allocated 6.7 billion dollars of the 7.2 billion pledged by individuals and governments after the disaster and built over 140,000 homes, 1,759 school buildings, 363 bridges and 13 airports.

But by its own reckoning around 350 families are still living in barracks waiting for housing. A major US-funded highway through some of the worst-hit areas also remains incomplete.

Teuku Achmad Fuad Haikal, the 39-year-old head of a local non-governmental organisation, said he was still waiting for a new home four years after the tsunami swept away his house, his wife and two daughters.

"I haven't got a house up to now even though I've sent a request to the BRR twice," he said.

"But some people have got more than one home, this has to be stopped."

Aceh Governor Irwandi Yusuf said the provincial government will use a special 2009 budget of 1.3 trillion rupiah (120.9 million dollars) to finish any projects the BRR did not complete.

"Indeed there are housing development projects that have been abandoned by contractors, there are those that aren't finished. The remainder will be finished by (local authorities) this year," he said.

Independent aid groups working with the BRR have complained of being forced to pay bribes to local contractors but there has been no official estimate of how much of the international aid money was lost through corruption.

The tsunami sparked peace talks that led to a deal in 2005 between separatist rebels and Jakarta, ending a three-decade war that killed over 15,000 people.

Many demobilised rebels were given jobs in reconstruction projects and there are fears the BRR's closure will fuel discontent and unemployment at a sensitive time in the peace process.

Adding to potential woes is the fact that while aid has transformed tsunami-hit areas, those living in inland districts devastated by the civil war have been left out.

Acehnese political leaders accuse the government in Jakarta of failing to meet its obligations under the peace deal, while some members of the Indonesian military believe the rebels are ready to resume their fight for independence.

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Italian authorities warned over quake-zone buildings: report
Rome (AFP) April 16, 2009
Officials in the quake-hit Abruzzo region failed to act on warnings from as far back as 1999 that hundreds of their public buildings were vulnerable to earthquakes, press reports said Thursday.

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