New Zealand and Australia are defending their warnings of terror attacks in Indonesia, despite saying the alert has nothing to do with their decision to pull out of the region.
Prime Minister Helen Clark confirmed yesterday that New Zealand's 60-strong military contingent of army medics and a Royal New Zealand Air Force Hercules air crew would be home from Banda Aceh within a week.
The contingent – the second, dispatched two weeks ago to assist with tsunami relief efforts in devastated northern Sumatra – was expected to remain for two months.
The Government's decision to withdraw troops from Indonesia mirrors an Australian move to pull its military out.
"People are, in essence, packing up and making ready to leave," Clark said yesterday.
Anzac medical teams in Aceh have handed back control of the town's main hospital to local medical staff, with New Zealanders planning to begin flying out of the region overnight.
At the weekend, acting on Australian intelligence advice, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) issued a strengthened travel advisory for Indonesia, warning visitors and aid workers in Aceh that it had received "specific information" regarding terrorists planning attacks against foreigners.
MFAT recommended Kiwis not travel to Aceh, and that those helping in the region should consider leaving immediately.
The Indonesian Government and army yesterday cast doubt on the terror threat, saying it had no hard information about specific threats to foreigners.
Other Western nations have not raised their travel advisory status.
Clark denied the seemingly hasty withdrawal had anything to do with the terror alert – or reports that the Indonesian Government had set a deadline of February 26 for all foreign military to leave its soil.
The Anzac hospital in Aceh had also come under fire from local media who believed local medical staff should be in control.
However, Clark said ministers had discussed the withdrawal last Wednesday, two days before receiving intelligence about a possible terrorist threat.
"What it's about is an assessment that the relief phase has come to an end, that Indonesia picks up control of things from here and we move to the next phase, which is reconstruction."
Both Clark and Australian Prime Minister John Howard stood by their assessment of an increased terror risk to foreigners in Indonesia.
"Speaking for Australia, we act on advice we get. We didn't issue that travel advisory lightly, and we stand by it," Howard said.
Clark said the threat was deemed to be credible.
"With the history of terrorism of Indonesia, if you have a threat which you think is credible, you don't sit around waiting to see whether it's going to transpire or not.
"Certainly, Australia has been very much on the receiving end of terrorist activity there. We, ourselves, had loss of life in Bali, and many traumatised persons."
Clark said some Kiwis would likely remain in Indonesia, assisting aid agencies.
She reiterated her advice that they form "a robust security plan".
She said New Zealand would play a small part in reconstruction.
A police forensic team remained in Thailand, but Clark said she did not have a timeline for its withdrawal.
In spite of the warning two more New Zealanders are set to join the international relief effort in Aceh.
The Red Cross pair, logistics specialist Robert McEwan and nurse Judy Owen, will join two Kiwi nurses already working for the organisation in Indonesia.
The New Zealanders are among about 80 expatriate specialist Red Cross workers involved in the relief effort there.
New Zealand Red Cross operations manager Andrew McKie said the Red Cross had been in the region since long before the tsunami and had robust security measures.
Queenstown water engineer Les Collins is awaiting further information from MFAT before deciding whether to return to Banda Aceh.
Collins spent a month in the area helping to restore water supplies and hopes to return with a design for a new system. http://www.stuff.co.nz/stuff/0,2106,3196202a10,00.html