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Security threats won't limit efforts

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia -- Aid officials said yesterday that they would not scale back relief efforts on Indonesia's tsunami-stricken Sumatra island, despite security fears raised by the presence of an extremist Islamic group with alleged links to Al Qaeda.

Relief groups setting up operations at the main airport in the provincial capital, Banda Aceh, said they were aware of security concerns in the region and had taken precautions, but they were relying on good will surrounding the relief effort for their safety.

The presence of Laskar Mujahidin, known for killing Christians in another part of Indonesia, has generated fears that US military personnel and others involved in relief work in Aceh Province could become terror targets.

Laskar Mujahidin set up a camp in Aceh and posted a sign that read -- in English -- "Islamic Law Enforcement." Its members say they have been collecting corpses, distributing food, and providing Islamic teaching for refugees. An Indonesian military spokesman, Major General Syafrie Syamsuddin, held a news conference in the capital, Jakarta, to deny rumors that US troops helping in the relief effort were spies and that the US military was trying to set up a long-term base in Aceh.

"They are merely dealing with a humanitarian operation, not a military one," Syamsuddin said yesterday. "They should not be accused of various things . . . that can make them upset."

It was not clear what the source of the rumors was, nor how widely they had circulated, though opposition politicians have accused the Indonesian government of being unprepared to cope with the disaster and of being forced into the "shameful" position of having to accept foreign help.

"If the United States and Australia act beyond their humanitarian task, then we have to resist," said Amien Rais, who heads Indonesia's highest legislative body. "But if otherwise, we ought to thank them."

A security official in the Philippines -- one of several Southeast Asian countries, including Indonesia, where the Al Qaeda-linked terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah operates -- warned that extremists would take whatever opportunity they could to launch attacks on Americans.

An attack would become more likely if outsiders were perceived to have motives other than delivering aid to Aceh, where separatist guerrillas have fought the government for two decades.

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