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ACEH UNDER MARTIAL LAW; WAR LOOMS JAKARTA - Indonesia's president put Aceh province under martial law Sunday and gave the green light for a major military assault against separatist rebels after last-ditch peace talks in Tokyo collapsed. In a decree read out by an aide, President Megawati Sukarnoputri said the refusal of Free Aceh Movement (GAM) rebels to accept Indonesian sovereignty over Aceh had endangered the province, requiring the imposition of martial law, effective immediately.
"All the parts of Aceh province are declared as being in a dangerous situation with their status now under a military emergency," Megawati said in the decree, read out at midnight. The collapse of the Tokyo talks and a landmark peace agreement signed last December has condemned the resource-rich province to a renewed war that could be only hours away.
In line with regulations covering a military emergency, or martial law, Megawati put Aceh military commander Major General Endang Suwarya in charge of the staunchly Muslim region. Jakarta-based military officials were not available to comment on when they might start an offensive. In Aceh, a military spokesman said forces were awaiting orders from Jakarta.
The government said the decree would be effective for six months, but could be extended if required. The rebels earlier responded defiantly, saying they were ready to resume one of Asia's longest-running separatist conflicts that has killed 10,000 people since 1976, and they would also appeal to the United Nations to intervene. "The Indonesia government wishes to continue their war on the Acehnese," rebel leader Mahmood Malik told reporters after a gruelling 12-hour session of talks in Tokyo.
"We will fight. We are ready. We have been fighting already for 27 years," added Malik, looking worn and close to tears. Giving up their demand for independence had been the key condition Jakarta had demanded of the rebels. The government's chief negotiator, Wiryono Sastrohandoyo, said Indonesia had worked hard to find an agreement. "But there is one thing that is not negotiable and that is the integrity and sovereignty of the nation," he said.

Bicketing and mistrust

The peace agreement has been beset by bickering and mistrust over the issue of independence, which GAM has long demanded but Indonesia refuses to give. The peace pact did not address this in detail, focusing more on trying to halt the fighting. Aceh, a major oil and natural gas producer, is one of two separatist hot spots in Indonesia. The other is Papua in the far east.
Jakarta had ordered the rebels to drop their demand for independence by Sunday and agree to give up 60 percent of their weapons this month or face one of the country's biggest military assaults since the brutal 1975 invasion of East Timor. The decree calls for "integrated operations" in Aceh. The key plank is military, but it also covers humanitarian efforts.
Under martial law, communications and publications can be banned, curfews imposed and searches and preventative detentions undertaken, the International Crisis Group has said. The military could also take control of all telecommunications and limit or stop transport into and out of Aceh, the group said. In the provincial capital Banda Aceh, 1,700 km (1,060 miles) northwest of Jakarta, there was no obvious sign of tension Sunday. Families had enjoyed the day off and men packed coffee shops playing cards.
Even as it talked, the government beefed up forces. It has boosted troops and police there to more than 45,000 from 38,000. GAM has about 5,000 fighters. Underscoring what lies ahead, Metro TV broadcast pictures of a firefight near a village in north Aceh Sunday that lasted for three hours. Police said one policeman was seriously wounded. An Indonesian military official said troops killed seven rebels Saturday in a clash over the hoisting of a rebel flag.
Many Acehnese such as Cut Yuli, 25, who runs a roadside foodstall, appeared resigned to more hardship. "I am not afraid, because I surrender everything to God. I hope there is no operation, but if there is, that it's not as severe as those before," Yuli said as she heated up a helping of goat meat for a customer.

Posted in Aceh conflict @ 18 May 2003 00:05 CET by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink

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