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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Security Issues Hinder Tsunami Relief

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia -- A U.S. helicopter on a tsunami relief mission crashed Monday in Indonesia, injuring two servicemen and briefly suspending operations, while strong aftershocks and security concerns provided more challenges for aid workers two weeks after the killer waves hit.

Millions of people are homeless and bodies were still being pulled from collapsed buildings after the Dec. 26 tsunami killed more than 150,000 people across 11 countries. Indonesia's government promised Monday to step up efforts to recover and bury the dead.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan was assessing damage in the Maldives, a low-lying string of coral atolls in the Indian Ocean that lost 82 people. The United Nations is now coordinating humanitarian relief efforts in all the countries affected by the disaster, and is taking that responsibility "very, very seriously," Annan said.

The U.S. Seahawk helicopter crashed in a rice paddy about 500 meters from the airport in Banda Aceh, the capital of Indonesia's hard-hit Aceh province and the hub of international aid operations, the U.S. military said.

Lieutenant Commander John Daniels, a U.S. military spokesman aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, said one person fractured an ankle and another suffered a dislocated hip. The other eight sailors on board suffered "no significant injuries," he said. He blamed the crash on a "possible mechanical failure." U.S. authorities said there was no indication the helicopter had been shot down.

The crash came amid heightened security concerns in several tsunami-hit areas with ethnic rebellions -- particularly in Aceh, where rebels have waged a separatist war in the province for nearly three decades.

United Nations staff in Aceh are on high alert and armed guards are patrolling their compounds amid fears of rebel attacks.

Indonesian military chief Endriartono Sutarto said in an interview that he had heard reports of rebels stealing aid and even briefly kidnapping Indonesian aid workers. Sutarto said the workers were rescued by Indonesian forces but gave no further details.

Indonesia's military warned aid workers Sunday that rebels in Aceh were taking shelter in camps for survivors, but the government dismissed those claims Monday. The government also said rebels were not responsible for a shooting near the main UN compound Sunday, contradicting earlier assertions by the country's military and police.

Aftershocks from the massive earthquake that spawned the killer waves continued to rattle residents in the hardest-hit countries. A 6.2-magnitude temblor sent people scrambling from their homes early Monday in Banda Aceh, but no injuries or damage were reported.