BANDA ACEH, Indonesia -- Rebels in the tsunami-ravaged province of Aceh accused the government of abandoning an informal cease-fire after the military said yesterday that it had killed scores of suspected guerrillas to protect aid deliveries.
The rebels disputed the military's claim of killing 120 of their fighters in the past two weeks, saying only 20 of its fighters had died in skirmishes. The rebels said 100 others killed were unarmed civilians.
The renewed hostilities in the nearly three-decade separatist conflict called into question the security of efforts to aid survivors of the Dec. 26 tsunami. Tallies of the dead from the disaster have varied widely, from about 158,000 to 221,000 in 11 nations.
With as many as a million survivors in need of food and shelter, humanitarian groups said a US military decision to begin pulling back from relief operations could disrupt the flow of aid.
"My gut feeling is that no, the civilian side isn't ready to take over," said Aine Fay, Indonesia director for the Irish aid group Concern. "The American military, the military hardware, has been so useful."
"I'm a bit taken aback that they're thinking of withdrawing it already," she said.
More than 11,000 US troops and 16 Navy ships are providing relief support, according to the Pentagon. Since the operation began Jan. 1, they have delivered more than 8,600 tons of relief supplies to the affected region.
Indonesians living in aid camps were also worried about the withdrawal of American forces, whose helicopters have become the backbone of the relief effort. "I want them to stay here 100 percent. If they leave, there'll be no more food," said Mohamad Amin, a 50-year-old fisherman whose house was swept away by the waves.
He is staying with 950 others in a filthy encampment in Aceh's provincial capital, Banda Aceh. He spoke yesterday as he idled with several men under a canopy of the Al-Faizil mosque, whose unpainted facade was plastered with pictures of the missing.
Amin said the financially strapped Indonesian government would not be able to cope with reconstruction. He said the Americans and other foreign volunteers should leave only when large numbers of refugees have been moved to permanent settlements and given new jobs.
An Indonesian military chief, General Endriartono Sutarto, said his troops had been forced to kill the suspected rebels because they were interfering with relief efforts.
"We cannot allow that to happen," he said. "We have to be able to guarantee that aid workers -- foreigners and Indonesians -- are safe to do their work."
Relief agencies have not reported any disruption to aid work by rebels. They have agreed to Indonesian requirements to register and travel with military escorts.
In Sri Lanka, a Norwegian delegation arrived to try to further peace talks between the government and Tamil Tiger rebels. A fragile cease-fire has been strained since the tsunami killed more than 30,000 Sri Lankans, with each side saying the other is obstructing aid deliveries.