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Germany

Berlin Offers More than Debt Relief to Crisis Area

Continuing his tour of countries devastated by December's tsunami, Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said that Germany was ready to offer more than a debt moratorium. Creditor nations meet this week to discuss the matter.

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German Foreign Minister (left) and Indonesian President

Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said on Monday in Jakarta, Indonesia, that the German government would consider providing more than just a suspension of debt payments for the country hardest hit by the underwater earthquake and tsunami on December 26.

"From our political commitment, it is quite clear we are ready for a debt moratorium or to go further, if there is a need," Fischer told reporters after meeting with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Germany is not alone, Fischer said, in the matter of a debt moratorium.

"As far as I understand, the United Kingdom and others, including the United States are planning and thinking in the same way, so I think all options are open and should be discussed in a constructive and positive way in the Paris Club."

On Wednesday, the creditor nations of the Paris Club are meeting to consider a debt moratorium for Sri Lanka and Indonesia. For Indonesia, a debt moratorium is of extreme importance.

Seebeben Indonesien Hilfe für Banda Aceh Hubschrauber

Relief mission in Indonesia continues unabated despite aftershock and helicopter mishap

Economic Affairs Minister Aburizal Bakrie said his country would like to freeze payments on $3.2 billion (€2.46 billion) of debt until the year 2007. At that time, Bakrie said, Indonesia should be able to restart payments. Jakarta alone is $48 billion in debt.

Another strong aftershock hits region

Rescue efforts in the region were hindered by two incidents on Monday. At 5:00 am local time (22:00 UTC), residents of Banda Aceh ran out onto the streets in panic after a powerful 6.2 aftershock struck the already badly destroyed city. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

Also, a US military helicopter crashed in a rice paddy during a relief mission in Aceh province. Officials said no one died in the crash but all on board were taken to a hospital. The US military at first halted all helicopter flights but then soon resumed them in a scaled-back operation.

There was no indication that the helicopter went down due to ground fire, but in the past few days, firefights have taken place between the Indonesian army and the rebel group GAM who is demanding an independent state in Aceh.

Foreign relief workers have yet to be affected by the fighting but Fischer did discuss the matter with President Yudhoyono. Fischer said after the meeting he had the impression Indonesia realized how necessary it was for the helpers to be able to work in a peaceful environment.

Travel restrictions to Thailand

Before arriving in Indonesia, Fischer toured Thailand where he promised Bangkok continued assistance, particularly for schools destroyed by the tsunami. According to the foreign minister, Thais have greatly accepted German aid so far.

Urlauber in Thailand Seebeben

A Thai man carries a bag as he walks past two Westerners taking a sun bath in Phuket

Regarding travel to the ravaged southeast Asian country, Fischer said restrictions would remain in place.

"When something happens again, people will rightfully ask, why we weren't diligent enough. This is a matter that will be constantly reevaluated," he said.

Fischer added, however, that Thailand relies on its tourism industry and that it is a double punishment for the country to be hit both by the natural disaster and then to be hit so hard economically.

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