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Aceh resigned, unhappy as war looms BANDA ACEH - Standing by stacks of fruit he sells in Aceh's capital, Maimum does not share Indonesia's confidence a new military operation will be more successful than past efforts to defeat rebels who have fought for independence for decades. "It will go on for a long, long time," Maimum said on Tuesday, a day after a government deadline passed for talks between the two sides, and Jakarta said a big military offensive against Free Aceh Movement (GAM) rebels was inevitable.
People in this sprawling city of 400,000 on the northern tip of Sumatra, set on a coastal plain that backs into sharply rising rugged green hills, seem resigned to that probability but not happy that a landmark peace pact is about to collapse. "We hope there is no military action, but if there is, what can we do?" said artist Syahrul, 42.
It is not simply an issue of danger in the case of conflict, he said, but the economic impact. "Maybe people cannot go out of their homes to earn money. There's no preparation because we work today to eat today," he said. Indeed, life in many ways appeared normal in Banda Aceh on Tuesday. Shops opened, motorcycles and cars jostled with trishaws in busy traffic, and children went to school, many girls wearing white headscarves and body length clothing in this staunchly Muslim province.
But there were plenty of signs of the coming conflict as well, jarring the scene in what is otherwise a city with greenery, space and a peppering of attractive old buildings. Mixed with such images now are truckloads of troops, rifles at the ready, rolling through the streets, some with machine guns mounted on top. An armoured car sits outside a police complex, a red and white Indonesian flag fluttering from its roof. Troops with automatic weapons can be seen at the airport and hotels in the city, 1,700 km (1,060 miles) northwest of Jakarta.

Trading blame

At issue in the expected renewed conflict, interrupted for a few months by a peace agreement calling on GAM to disarm and the government to withdraw to defensive positions, is the rebels demand for an independent Aceh and the government's bottom-line offer of autonomy for the resource-rich province. Each side blames the other for the failure of the agreement -- which initially brought a significant drop in the violence that has killed some 10,000 people over recent decades -- but the arguments are lost on Acehnese such as trishaw driver Suliman.
"You cannot really say who is to blame," he said. Government or GAM, said fruit seller Maimum, "both of them are just the same." Not everyone feels that way. At a refugee centre for hundreds who fled the conflict before the peace pact, sarong-clad Mariana blames militias backed by government troops for destroying her home in central Aceh.
"We had to go because we had no farms, no property, nothing. The houses were burned and we watched while it happened." The government and military generally deny such accusations and say GAM is guilty of numerous atrocities. "The peace agreement was a good start actually, but it was only between top people," said businessman Hasbi Annas, 46.
Annas is among those who think the renewed conflict will be a long one. But such concerns do not touch all Acehnese. An old woman with a straw hat spoke for several others taking a break from labour in lush rice paddies east of Banda Aceh when she said: "We're too busy in the rice fields. We have no time for all these political things."



Posted in Aceh conflict @ 13 May 2003 00:03 CET by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink






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