Swiss military helicopters head for Sumatra

Three Super Pumas will support humanitarian aid (Keystone) Keystone

Switzerland is sending three transport helicopters and up to 50 military personnel to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, which was devastated by the Asian tsunami.

This content was published on January 7, 2005 - 13:29

The decision follows a request by the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) on Thursday.

The military detachment will consist of the helicopter crew, as well as ground and security staff. Army chief Christophe Keckeis said they would be armed for their own security.

The Super Puma helicopters are due to be flown out to Sumatra on Monday morning. They will be used for medical evacuations and to airlift relief supplies to inaccessible areas.

Most of the personnel will leave a few days later, but a first contingent is expected to arrive in Indonesia on Saturday.

Keckeis said the cost of the relief mission, which is expected to last three months, would be up to SFr3 million ($2.56 million).

Aid desperately needed

Walter Fust, director of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), said on Friday that the tsunami victims on Sumatra were in need of substantial aid.

The island is the area worst affected by the Asian tsunami disaster. More than 113,000 people lost their lives in Indonesia – mainly in Aceh province – as a result of the deadly tidal waves.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who is currently visiting the west coast of Sumatra, said he was greatly shocked by the extent of the devastation.

“I have never seen such utter destruction mile after mile...
You wonder where are the people? What has happened to them?” he said.

Annan visited the island after attending an international conference in Jakarta to decide how best to deploy the $4 billion pledged for the tsunami victims.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

According to Indonesian sources, more than half a million people on the island of Sumatra have been made homeless.

The death toll in Indonesia is more than 113,000.

An estimated 150,000 people are feared dead in southeast Asia.

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