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Tsunami Survivor Picked Up After 15 Days


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Tsunami Survivor Picked Up After 15 Days




BANDA ACEH, Indonesia (AP) - A tsunami survivor rescued after 15 days adrift in the Indian Ocean recounted Tuesday how he lived on coconuts that floated by, tearing them open with his teeth. Indonesia, meanwhile, said it hoped to ease the bottleneck of aid flights by opening a second airport north of Sumatra island.


Also Tuesday, Indonesia's military chief extended a new cease-fire offer to rebels in Aceh province, the region hit hardest by the Dec. 26 earthquake and tsunami that killed more than 150,000 people across southern Asia.


Rebels in the area welcomed the proposal made by Gen. Endriartono Sutarto during a news conference in Banda Aceh.


``We have to work together to help Aceh,'' Sutarto said.


The 21-year-old survivor, Ari Afrizal, was picked up Sunday by a container ship after being swept out to sea by the tsunami from a beachfront construction site in Aceh. He is the third Indonesian to be rescued and brought to Malaysia.


``The earthquake lasted about 15 minutes,'' Ari said after the ship docked at Port Klang near the capital of Kuala Lumpur. ``Then the waves came, big, big waves that slammed down hard on us.''


Ari, who appeared fit despite the ordeal, said he saw four of his friends grab pieces of debris or uprooted trees, ``but we drifted away from each other as the waves rolled us out further into the sea.''


For a while, he lay on a 5-foot-long plank, weak and exhausted.


``My throat was burning. The sun was hot. I had cuts all over my body. The salt water was stinging. I couldn't even find my voice to call out to other survivors. Eventually they all drifted away and I was all alone,'' he said in an interview with The Associated Press from his hospital bed.


``I prayed and prayed. I told God I don't want to die. ... I worried about my elderly parents and asked for a chance to take care of them. As if my prayers were answered, a broken (boat) floated toward me a few days later.''


He ended up staying on the listing boat for five days before spotting a large unmanned raft with a hut on it. He swam up to it and found a gallon bottle of water aboard.


On the 15th day, Ari said he awoke and saw the container ship bearing down on him. He attracted its attention by waving his shirt, whistling and shouting in Malay ``Tolong! Tolong!''


``Help! Help!''


The captain of the Al Yamamah, John Kennedy of New Zealand, said he was surprised to see ``a frail-looking man'' emerge from the hut of the raft.


Hoping to relieve pressure on the tiny airport outside the provincial capital of Banda Aceh, Indonesia opened up a new airport on the island of Sabang, north of Sumatra, said Budi Atmaji, chief of staff for the country's relief operations. The airport at Banda Aceh has only one landing strip and is struggling to cope with about 200 flights per day.


A U.S. Seahawk helicopter crashed in a rice paddy near Banda Aceh airport as it was trying to land Monday, injuring two sailors. The U.S. military blamed the crash on a ``possible mechanical failure'' and said it was being investigated.


Atmaji also reiterated the government's concern for foreign aid workers' security in a province where Indonesia's military has battled separatist rebels for more than 20 years.


Speaking from Sweden, the rebels' spokesman, Baktiar Abdullah, said the Indonesian government's cease-fire offer ``has come a bit late, but still, it is something that is positive and good.'' However, he expressed skepticism about the proposal, noting that the government had sent thousands of soldiers to the region since the tsunami.


Sutarto repeated claims that the guerrillas, who have fought for years for a separate homeland on Sumatra island's northern tip, had tried to hijack relief supplies. The Free Aceh Movement, known by its Indonesian acronym GAM, ``is trying to stop food assistance and they are trying to rob the food away,'' Sutarto said. ``If they ask for food, we will give it to them. They do not have to do this.''


The military has long been accused of rights abuses in Aceh and offered no evidence to back up its claim. The rebels denied it and said their supporters are among the thousands of victims of the disaster who need help.


Indonesia Cabinet Secretary Sudi Silalahi said the country hopes to take over full responsibility for humanitarian efforts by March 26 - three months after the tsunami struck.


As aid poured in for survivors, the United Nations made the unusual move of turning to an outside accounting firm to track billions of dollars in relief funds and to investigate any credible allegations of fraud.


The U.N. and 80 donor nations meeting in Geneva tackled how to best use the more than $4 billion in aid money pouring in from around the world.


Japan pledged an additional $40 million in aid Tuesday through the World Bank and via trust funds at the Asian Development Bank - on top of $500 million it has already promised. Asked if the United States would give more than the $350 million it has already announced, President Bush said Monday, ``We'll see.''


Hoping to prevent future loss of life, Sri Lanka outlawed construction close to the coast after losing more than 30,000 people to the tsunami disaster. President Chandrika Kumaratunga told the state-run Daily News that the law would be strictly enforced.


Kumaratunga, who is from the Sinhalese majority, also said she planned to adopt a Tamil child orphaned by last month's tsunami - a startling gesture that appeared to be aimed at helping mend a three-decade rift between the two warring communities.


Officials in Thailand said the tsunami caused $500 million in damage to the country's shrimp-farming industry and killed more than 100 workers. Thailand sends abroad more than 250,000 tons annually and is among the world's top four exporters.


Despite fears of epidemics, the World Health Organization said Tuesday there were no signs of impending outbreaks of serious disease in the disaster zones.


The U.N. health organization will need one month to say with confidence that the worst is over, the organization's southeast Asia chief, Samlee Plianbangchang, said in Sri Lanka.


The fragility of the health of the victims was clear at a Singaporean field hospital on the outskirts of Banda Aceh, where one man waited for his daughter after walking for four days to get help. He said she began suffering from diarrhea after she drank from a river where corpses were floating.


``My daughter was crying for water. I didn't know where to find it except there,'' said Syamsuddin, 35. ``Maybe that's what made her sick.''


Associated Press reporters Chris Brummitt, Edward Harris and Yeoh En-lai in Indonesia, Dilip Ganguly in Sri Lanka and Andy Wong in Malaysia contributed to this report.



01/11/05 11:50






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