Reader Geoffrey Gold reports from Jakarta:
Aceh is suffering tremendously from the massive earthquake and tsunamis but there is relief, at least temporarily, from the 30-year separatist war within the province.
The Free Aceh Movement (known as GAM) has accepted the suggestion by national military commander, General Endriartono Sutarto, for a ceasefire in the conflict which has cost nearly 3,000 lives over the past four years alone.
The army is reassigning most of its 15,000 troops in the region to relief efforts and GAM has ordered its guerillas to cease hostilities and focus on humanitarian work.
However Vice President Jusuf Kalla admitted that security forces had also been overwhelmed by the disaster with some 400 soldiers missing and presumed dead and 300 police were killed when their barracks were destroyed by the sea.
During his visit yesterday to the devastated area, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono declared three days of national mourning and announced the relaxation of martial law security restrictions to allow international relief agencies to directly fly in medicines, food and other basic necessities.
Indonesian media reports that thousands of homeless families are huddled together in mosques and schools in the provincial capital, Banda Aceh, only about 210 km from the earthquake’s epicenter. The city’s only shopping mall is reportedly a pile of rubble and the minaret of the city’s 150-year-old mosque is leaning dangerously.
Remote coastal villages on both coasts were washed away in the province, home to about 4.3 million Indonesians. Local casualties are estimated at 3,000, about 60% of the national toll.
However officials now fear that the number of deaths could total more than 25,000 once information is received from isolated areas.
Ironically, the head of Aceh’s civil administration, Governor Abdullah Puteh, is required in Jakarta where he went on trial for corruption yesterday.