His Majesty visits tsunami-hit Aceh
By Azlan Othman

His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam yesterday toured the capital of Indonesia's Aceh province, the first foreign head of state to visit the tsunami-hit region, to view the devastation and inspect Brunei's relief efforts.

Dressed in military fatigues, His Majesty piloted a Royal Brunei Air Force Blackhawk helicopter himself and flew over the western coast and to Weh island off Sumatra Island's northern tip.

His Majesty was accompanied by Indonesian Welfare Minister Alwi Shihab, who looks after the relief efforts in the province, on the hour-long flight from the provincial capital, Banda Aceh, and back, Associated Press reported.

His Majesty later visited the town of Sabang on nearby Weh island, where a 50-strong Bruneian military and civilian contingent are operating, before leaving Aceh later in the day.

His Majesty prayed at the main Baiturrahman mosque in the provincial capital of Banda Aceh shortly before embarking on a tour of the devastated city.

The Indonesian minister later told the AP that His Majesty announced that he was considering paying for the mosque's repairs. His Majesty also brought copies of the Quran for distribution at several mosques.

Earlier, the monarch was greeted on arrival at the Sultan Iskandar Muda Military Airfield, Banda Aceh before being briefed by Alwi Sihab.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard is scheduled to visit Aceh today. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan toured the area last month after attending an international conference in Jakarta on the aid effort.

Brunei responded to the victims of the tsunami disaster, which has killed more than 100,000 people and 100,000 more missing in Aceh alone.

On January 12, His Majesty's government pledged $6 million to all the affected countries in Southeast Asia and South Asia following a meeting on Humanitarian Assistance to Tsunami-affected communities.

As an initial assistance, Brunei had contributed B$670,000 in immediate aid to Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. A Relief Fund for Victims of the Tsunami Disaster, which will remain open for six months, was launched on January 3 and has been receiving financial donations from ministries and agencies, schools, the private sector, business associations and the general public.

Brunei also sent humanitarian relief assistance to Aceh. The first delegation left for Banda Aceh on January 9 and was led by Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Defence, Director General of Medical Services and four RBAF officers. It went there to assess the situation beforehand.

The second Brunei team comprising 44 members left on January 12 including RBAF personnel, army medical doctors, officials from the Sultan Hj Hassanal Bolkiah Foundation, Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports. It was later followed by another six officials from the foundation, army doctors and RBAF personnel a few days later.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) applauded the efficiently-run Brunei Regiment Aid Post (RAP) set up in tsunami-ravaged Panga Pucok in Aceh, to provide relief and medical aid to thousands of refugees.

Brunei also donated some 17 tonnes of relief materials and RBA operated a humanitarian flight to Medan on January 19. The relief materials were collected and contributed by the Sultan Hj Hassanal Bolkiah Foundation, Ministry of Health and Royal Brunei Armed Forces.

Brunei's relief fund has crossed the $1.9 million mark. Also, B$250,000 worth of aid from the country's Tsunami Disaster Relief Fund has reached the shores of tsunami-affected areas of Simeulue island, Meulaboh and Tenom.

The fund was used to purchase tonnes of dried foodstuffs, cooking oil, rice, clothing, blankets, ten units of electric generators and ten units of water pumps in Indonesia for the tsunami victims. - Borneo Bulletin