A GRASSINGTON Peace Group member has visited the area of Indonesia most devastated by the tsunami and returned with a sense of hope for the future.

Ann Marsden journeyed to the province of Aceh to visit her son Bill, who is working for the British Red Cross helping to rebuild the lives of survivors.

The tsunami, which was preceded by an earthquake measuring 8.9 on the Richter scale, devastated a 500-mile strip of Aceh's coastline, on the north west tip of Sumatra.

Best estimates are that more than 130,000 people were killed and another 37,000 are officially listed as missing.

Half a million survivors were left homeless and the scene was likened to Hiroshima.

Rebuilding Aceh province is a mammoth task, but one that Bill is wholly committed to.

Mrs Marsden arrived to see her son on December 29 and spent several weeks touring the area.

She said: "I was bombarded with impressions. The devastation had been horrific."

Bill's chief role is to complete the rebuilding of houses, which has been a slow task.

Charity workers have made painstaking efforts to get the work done correctly and fairly, against a backdrop of local people desperate to be re-housed.

The tsunami swept away land in many places and the British Red Cross has been working to ensure full legal ownership of the remaining land and the building of safe homes that will hopefully withstand future disasters. Survivors were firstly registered and their status verified by the village elders.

Some of the first buildings erected were made of aluminium and buckled during high winds.

Mrs Marsden said: "All the aid agencies realise the only way to do good work is through consultation.

"The situation is extremely complicated. There is a great effort to empower local people rather than come sweeping in with fixed ideas. The disadvantages are it's slow if there is lots of negotiating. But some of the mistakes are removed."

Orphans have not been forgotten in the land shake-up and have been assigned plots of land with the deeds lodged in a bank.

The British Red Cross is trying to help the local people restore their livelihoods too.

Boats are being repaired and fishermen are returning to their trade. Fish are an important source of protein to the residents.

Mrs Marsden said: "I am proud of him (Bill). I realise how complicated it is to get right. He was exhausted to the point where it is difficult to switch off."

However, she said that the most significant development since the tsunami had been peace.

For the past 26 years Aceh has been the scene of a bitter conflict between the Indonesian government and the separatist rebels of the Free Aceh Movement.

"There was a lot of resentment by the Acehnese that the Government was heavy-handed and exploiting resources," explained Mrs Marsden.

"The Air Force was dropping food parcels in freedom fighter areas and there was a flood of aid from Indonesia and abroad. That changed opinion."

Peace has come from adversity and now a deal has been struck between the opposing parties who are holding ongoing talks.

Mrs Marsden concluded: "An amnesty was signed. They decided people who were terrorist suspects should be included in reconstruction. They have seized the opportunity for peace."