updated 5/31/2005 1:46:46 AM ET 2005-05-31T05:46:46

Former President Clinton said Monday he favored easing restrictions on sales of military equipment to Indonesia, maintaining that America should do all it can to help it rebuild after the tsunami.

The United States disclosed Thursday it would lift a ban on the sale of certain military equipment to Indonesia, drawing criticism from human rights groups who say the country hasn’t done enough to curb alleged abuses by the military in insurgency-wracked areas.

Clinton said lifting the ban would help relations with Indonesia, which the United States considers an important ally in its war on terrorism.

“I support the decision made by President Bush, not because I know all the facts, but because I think we always need to be making a new beginning,” he said.

“We have a huge stake in building a positive relationship” with Indonesia, he said.

The U.S. severed most military ties to Indonesia in 1999 when Indonesian soldiers were blamed for widespread killings and destruction in East Timor, after residents there voted to break away from Jakarta’s rule in a U.N.-sponsored referendum.

Earlier this year, the U.S. decided to renew training of Indonesian military officers and to allow direct commercial sales of some defense items and services. The decision allowed Jakarta to buy spare parts for C-130 aircraft transporting supplies to tsunami victims.

Still waiting for aid
Clinton, who was recently named the U.N. special envoy for tsunami recovery, was in Banda Aceh to review efforts to rebuild coastal areas where 128,000 people were killed and another half million left homeless by the Dec. 26 disaster. Banda Aceh is the capital of Aceh province, which bore the brunt of the earthquake and the giant waves it spawned.

On Tuesday, after Clinton had left, a 5.6-magnitude earthquake struck Aceh — one of many in the region since the tremor that produced the tsunami. There were no reports of damage or injuries, but the quake caused frightened residents to flee their homes and other buildings.

Many of the homeless said Monday they were still waiting for help from the government and international aid agencies.

“Please help Aceh to rebuild roads, houses, buildings,” said Dadang Dipraja, 40, a resident of Deah Geulumpang, a town on the outskirts of provincial capital Banda Aceh, as he sat fishing in a river surrounded by destroyed buildings. “But please don’t give money to the government, because it will be lost to corruption.”

‘Good things are happening’
However, Clinton praised government efforts to stop corruption, including the appointment of international accounting firms to ensure all donated aid is received. He urged survivors to be patient.

“I know there are many people in the camps we visited today and across the area hit by the tsunami who feel a great deal of frustration and who are eager to be able to move out of the tents and into their own homes,” Clinton said after his tour.

But, he added, “a lot of good things are happening now. You have no starving or epidemics of disease among children ... those who need counseling are getting counseling, and more and more training for valuable skills is getting done.”

He also welcomed ongoing talks in Finland between separatist Aceh rebels and the Indonesian government, saying peace was crucial to reconstruction.

The Dec. 26 tsunami killed more than 176,000 people in 11 countries, and left about 50,000 missing and hundreds of thousands homeless.

Clinton is on a four-day trip to countries worst hit to ensure that aid is being distributed fairly and efficiently, and to try keeping the world’s attention on tsunami recovery. He also visited the Maldives, India and Sri Lanka.

‘I feel great’
Clinton also said bad weather — not his health — was behind the decision to call off a planned visit to Funadhoo island in the Maldives — where the tsunami tore away a seawall and turned the island’s settlement into a ghost town — and a trip to meet survivors who had moved to a neighboring island.

Some officials said Clinton, who had heart bypass surgery in September, scrapped the visit late Saturday because he was exhausted. But Clinton said Monday bad weather was to blame.

“I feel great,” he said. “I’m fine. I’m in great shape.”

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