TIME: Is Indonesia risking the goodwill of foreign governments and aid groups by restricting their movements in Aceh?
YUDHOYONO: We are not restricting them to the point that they cannot properly do their work. What we are trying to do is coordinate, manage and protect them. After all, Aceh is still a conflict area. The safety and security of the international workers is the responsibility of Indonesia.
TIME: Why did the government set a March 26 deadline for the departure of foreign troops?
YUDHOYONO: Actually, I didn't set a deadline but rather a timeline. The government needs to have a schedule and also a target for the emergency-relief operations. We have to accelerate the process. We have to make our work more effective in order to achieve significant results in three months. But that doesn't mean that after three months there won't be any more emergency-relief efforts. We may still need the personnel, units or equipment of friendly nations to help continue the work.
TIME: So the deadline is flexible?
YUDHOYONO: If it is really necessary it can be extended, but we hope that within three months we will have achieved significant results from the emergency-relief operations.
TIME: Is Indonesia paranoid about foreigners?
YUDHOYONO: We are very grateful [for the] foreign assistance, [and] there is no paranoia. But in 2000, in Atambua [on the border with East Timor] several international workers were killed in an incident. Indonesia was blamed as being unable and unwilling to protect humanitarian workers, and I, then a minister, had to appear before the U.N. Security Council. We have to consider these factors while creating an atmosphere conducive to the reconstruction of Aceh, but without any such side effects.
TIME: Will the U.S. relief effort help win the hearts and minds of Indonesian Muslims?
YUDHOYONO: It's given a positive impression to the Indonesian people. It is normal for there to be elements in Indonesia that [are suspicious] of certain countries. But overall I see appreciation from the Indonesian people and gratitude toward those who have helped, including the U.S. Clearly, [American troops] are carrying out a humanitarian mission in Aceh.
TIME: What about hard-line Muslim groups like the Islamic Defenders Front (F.P.I.)?
YUDHOYONO: Many of these groups, including the F.P.I., are showing their solidarity by going to Aceh. They would like to contribute and help their brothers and sisters in Aceh. They are there within the context of providing humanitarian assistance. It is not just the F.P.I. that has gone but many organizations with a strong Muslim identity ... I don't see any political motives.
TIME: Will the presence of foreigners in Aceh internationalize the fight for independence by the Free Aceh Movement (G.A.M.)?
YUDHOYONO: I don't see that happening because the foreign aid organizations, journalists and contingents are here for humanitarian assistance. I hope it won't have any interests other than humanitarian.
TIME: You have told the Indonesian military (T.N.I.) to indefinitely halt offensive operations against G.A.M. Are you being obeyed?
YUDHOYONO: On Dec. 27 in [the Acehnese town of] Lhokseumawe I issued an order that the T.N.I. was to focus on securing all humanitarian operations and to go into defensive mode. I do not see any disobedience from the T.N.I. toward my instructions as President. There has been no offensive operation since the disaster.
TIME: What about G.A.M.? Is it obstructing the government's relief effort in any way?
YUDHOYONO: There have been reports of shootings, harassment and disturbances-including a policeman who was shot by G.A.M. in western Aceh-but only on a small scale.
TIME: Is Indonesia ready to face another disaster of this magnitude?
YUDHOYONO: This was the biggest natural disaster in the history of Indonesia, bigger even than Krakatoa. Our system for handling such emergencies needs to be improved, and we need an early-warning system in the Indian Ocean so we are prepared should something similar happen again ... There are those who compare us with Thailand and how quickly they acted. The scale and magnitude are different. The local government collapsed, the infrastructure was destroyed, there was no electricity, fuel, communication or transpor- tation. We mobilized what resources we had but needed help from outside nations, and I give them our greatest thanks.