Muslim Leader Warns Against Relief Efforts with 'Hidden Agendas'

A notable Muslim leader in Indonesia warned against attempts by some Christian aid workers to evangelize among survivors of last month’s devastating quake-tsunami disaster.

"All non-governmental organizations, either domestic or international, with hidden agendas coming here with humanitarian purposes but instead proselytizing, this is what we do not like," said Dien Syamsuddin, secretary-general of the Indonesian Council of Ulemas, as reported by the Associated Press.

At Friday prayers in the main mosque of Banda Aceh, the capital of Indonesia’s Aceh province, the Muslim leader warned international relief workers of a backlash if they brought Christian proselytizing to tsunami-struck Sumatra along with their humanitarian aid.

According to AP, he also condemned reports that Virginia-based World Help had planned to settle 300 Acehnese children orphaned from tsunami-ravaged Aceh to a Christian orphanage outside Jakarta, although the group said Thursday it had the dropped plans after the Indonesian government blocked the move.

"This is a reminder. Do not do this in this kind of situation," Syamsuddin said. "The Muslim community will not remain quiet. This a clear statement, and it is serious."

AP reports that Indonesia, sensitive over foreign involvement in the humanitarian effort, has insisted that foreign aid workers in Aceh be accompanied by army escorts despite the talk about a cease-fire—a move that relief groups say will hinder their work.

The Indonesian government also reiterated Friday that it wanted foreign troops out of the country by late March.

Meanwhile, health officials in Aceh started a major fumigation operation late Friday to prevent malaria from breaking out in refugee camps, where poor sanitation and contaminated water pose the greatest risk to thousands of survivors. Officials say the combination of the tsunami and heavy rains have created the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes.

Richard Allan—director of the Mentor Initiative, a public health group that fights malaria epidemics—warned that another 100,000 people could die of malaria around the Aceh region if quick action isn't taken.

So far twenty cases of measles have been reported in Aceh, according to the U.N. Children's Fund, and the United Nations is stepping up its support for an ongoing vaccination drive there.

Other major health risks in Aceh include dirty drinking water—often from unsanitary latrines—that could give people cholera, typhoid, dysentery and other waterborne diseases.