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Tsunami Survivors Leaving Relief Camps

Tsunami Survivors Leaving Relief Camps

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BANDA ACEH, Indonesia (AP) -- Tsunami survivors in Indonesia's shattered Aceh province have left relief camps by the tens of thousands in recent days to move in with relatives, a U.N. official said Monday, as the government and separatist rebels tried to turn the disaster into a chance for peace.

Elsewhere in Indonesia, a powerful earthquake sent thousands of people scrambling for higher ground, fearful it would trigger a tsunami like the one that killed at least 160,000 in the Indian Ocean region last month, most in Aceh. Officials said there was no danger of killer waves.

Joel Boutroue, the head of the U.N. relief effort in Aceh, said the number of relief camps has dropped by about 75 percent in the past week, from 385 to less than 100. The number of people in any one camp ranges from a few hundred to about 2,000.

The "dramatic decrease" is good news because relief settlements can make survivors too dependent on outside help, keeping them from rebuilding their lives, Boutroue said. He said most of those leaving were moving in with relatives, though a few were returning to their villages along Aceh's devastated west coast.

The government is building temporary housing for 100,000 survivors, along with mosques, schools and medical facilities. Some of the homes could be ready next week, enabling more survivors to move out of their tents.

Boutroue also said a survey found that 12.7 percent of tsunami survivors under 5 were malnourished, slightly higher than the national average of about 9 percent. Part of the reason was their diet lacked variety, he said.

He said many survivors received little more than rice and biscuits in the first weeks after the disaster. Now fish, salt and sugar are available, he said.

Boutroue praised the role of the Indonesia military in relief efforts but suggested that the operations should eventually be handed over to a civilian authorities.

"I believe there is a consensus on the need for the civilian authorities here to take full control of the operation," he said. "We are in support of this process."

The military has heavy presence in the province, where separatists have been fighting for an independent homeland for nearly 30 years. On Sunday Indonesian officials agreed to meet with Aceh rebel leaders later this week in Finland to negotiate a cease-fire so they can devote their energy to rebuilding.

"There is a hope that the scale of the disaster and the movement for rebuilding Aceh will help lead to social and political reconciliation between Indonesia and (the rebels)," said Dewi Anwar Fortuna, a prominent analyst and a former Indonesian presidential adviser.

In Sri Lanka, Norway's foreign minister met separately with the country's prime minister and a Tamil rebel leader over the weekend to help resolve a dispute over aid distribution in the island nation, where the tsunami killed about 31,000 people and displaced another 1 million.

Tamil rebels have repeatedly accused the government of obstructing aid deliveries to rebel-controlled areas in Sri Lanka's north and east -- allegations the government denies.

At Norway's urging, the two sides agreed to discuss the creation of a joint body that would ensure relief is fairly disbursed. If they do agree to such cooperation, it would represent serious progress in a conflict that has lingered for two decades.

Also Monday, Indonesia was rocked by a 6.2-magnitude earthquake that caused panic and damaged dozens of homes on Sulawesi island -- far to the east of Aceh. Thousands of people ran to higher ground in the city of Palu, where police said about 30 wooden houses were damaged, and patients at the main Undata hospital fled the building.

"They were shouting 'water, water' because they feared waves," said Dr. Riri Lamadjido.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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