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Asia: U.S. To Wind Down Tsunami Military Relief Operation

U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz is the latest foreign official to visit countries hit by December's devastating earthquake and ensuing tsunamis. Wolfowitz was in Thailand and Indonesia's Aceh Province today, where nearly all of Indonesia's 110,000 victims died. He said the United States wants to scale down its military relief operations -- as soon as other countries are ready to take over.

Prague, 15 January 2005 -- The huge earthquake and tsunamis killed at least 157,000 people in Indian Ocean-rim countries. The disaster triggered an unprecedented global response and promises of at least $7.5 billion in aid.

But as the relief and cleanup continue, Indonesia has expressed unease over the number of foreign troops the aid operation has brought to its territory. It has said it wants them out before the end of March.

The United States said today that its military role will wind down by that deadline.

"Once again, we would like to be out of business as soon as we possibly can," Deputy Defense Secretary Wolfowitz said in Thailand.

Wolfowitz later headed to Aceh, where the United States sent more than 15,000 military personnel to help tsunami survivors.

He said U.S. cooperation with Indonesia has been good and the presence of U.S. troops in the country has not been a problem.

But he added that Americans understand that it is a sensitive subject for Indonesia or any other country to have foreign troops on its territory. Indonesia has been battling separatist rebels in Aceh.

Meanwhile, the head of the UN Children's Fund said the tsunami probably left fewer orphans than originally thought.
UNICEF's Carol Bellamy said a "relatively small" number of the child survivors appear to be entirely orphaned -- without parents or extended family.

Carol Bellamy of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) said a "relatively small" number of the child survivors appear to be entirely orphaned -- without parents or extended family.

She also said governments have responded well to prevent children from being trafficked.

"The Indonesian government has put on a temporary moratorium on adoptions at this point,... a temporary moratorium on adoptions of children from Aceh Province," Bellamy said. "The police have also increased surveillance of airports and seaports to try and determine that there is not some kind of malfeasance going on."

However, on 13 January, UNICEF said some children displaced by the tsunamis had been recruited by Tamil Tiger rebels in Sri Lanka.

It said it had heard of three such cases of children recruited from refugee camps.