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Indonesians Wary of Relocation Centers

"There's really no security threat to us," Mulyadi added. "I really don't need to be guarded by the military."

The presence of soldiers might actually invite rebel attacks, warned Nursiah, 55, of Lhoknga village. She said she had no quarrel with the military but was afraid of getting caught up in a skirmish.

Barracks for Indonesians who lost their homes in last month's tsunami are under construction in the village of Lambaro, in Aceh province. Nearby is a compound for Indonesian army forces. (Alan Sipress -- The Washington Post)

Under the initiative being developed by the government in consultation with international agencies, relocation centers each include up to 40 wooden barracks, with each building housing 100 people. The occupants will be chosen by local officials.

Though the program will provide shelter to only about a quarter of the 400,000 people displaced by the tsunami, Mawardy said the barracks should accommodate most of those who were truly homeless. He said many refugees still had houses that could be occupied once repairs were made or electricity, roads and other infrastructure restored.

Some foreign relief groups have warned that wooden barracks could turn into permanent dwellings if plans are not quickly put in place to return the refugees to their home villages. These groups initially urged Indonesia to establish tent camps to be used for six months. But Indonesian officials balked, saying the country would not be able to rebuild the estimated 45,000 homes destroyed by the tsunami that fast.

"It takes time. It takes money in the budget. We're going to need two years," Mawardy said.

Some refugees will leave the centers sooner, opting to return to their own villages as soon as possible, he said. Others said they did not intend to move into the centers at all.

"We wouldn't like staying in the barracks because the soldiers will put us in a corner and threaten us. We won't be free to move around, like going to the rice paddies," said Samidan, 41, a minibus driver from Lhoknga squatting near the entrance of a silver tent in a makeshift camp, swatting flies. "Here, in this tent, I am free."

Refugees such as Samidan have the option to remain outside the centers, according to Indonesian and foreign officials. They stressed that no one would be forced to live under the guard of Indonesia's military, commonly known by the initials TNI.

Richard Luff, senior program director for Oxfam, said foreign relief groups must be aware of the military's history in Aceh. But so far, he said, the groups have seen no reason to doubt the government's intention to provide shelter for the refugees.

"TNI of course will want to play a broad security role," he said. "The concern is that role should be one of security and protection and not one of controlling and limiting people's movement of free will."

For many refugees, like Fazriati, a young mother with bright eyes and a ponytail, finding clean, safe shelter is of greater concern than the military's role. Sitting on a woven mat inside a tent erected in the gravel parking lot of a mosque, Fazriati, 24, said she was eager to move into a relocation center as soon as possible.

"We have to leave here. This is a dirty place. It leaks in the rain," she said, bouncing her 3-month-old son on her lap. She and 14 relatives now share a 15-by-6-foot living space, partitioned from the rest of the tent by a soiled tarp, after their home and furniture workshop in nearby Lam Isiek village was leveled by the flood.

"The most important thing is our welfare and a location far from the ocean," she said.

Special correspondent Yayu Yuniar contributed to this report.

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