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Indonesia uses UK Hawks in Aceh offensive JAKARTA - Indonesia launched its much-anticipated military offensive against separatists in Aceh province yesterday with displays of "shock therapy" on land, at sea and in the air. It was intended as a demonstration of what the rebels can expect from Jakarta's latest operation to crush the 27-year insurgency.
Four of the 13 aircraft used in what were mostly choreographed manoeuvres rather than attacks on fighters of the Free Aceh Movement (Gam), were British-made Hawk-200 fighter jets, sold to Indonesia on the understanding that they would not be used for internal repression.
The Hawks were used primarily to scare and intimidate people on the ground by flying low over targets already attacked with rockets by other aircraft, and then over terrain in advance of parachute drops by 600 troops. They were also used as close protection for Hercules transport planes.
A military spokesman did not rule out the Hawks being used to attack suspected rebel positions. "Sure. They could well be used [in a direct attack role] if we wanted to," said Lieutenant Colonel Firdaus Kormano. "But we haven't decided to do that yet." A Foreign Office spokeswoman said Britain had not received any reports of Hawks being used offensively, but would "obviously take [any reports] extremely seriously".
"Senior members of the Indonesian government and the military have repeatedly promised that British-supplied equipment would not be used offensively or in violation of human rights anywhere in Indonesia," the spokeswoman said, warning that future export licenses could come under threat if the reports were substantiated.
Col Firdaus said the Indonesian military's main operations yesterday were not intended to kill large numbers of rebels. "We just wanted to give some shock therapy to Gam, to make them mentally and psychologically afraid of what the future holds," he said.
The operation began only hours after President Megawati Sukarnoputri declared martial law in Aceh after the collapse of peace talks aimed at salvaging a ceasefire signed last December. The talks failed because Gam refused to meet Jakarta's demand to renounce its claim to independence and lay down its weapons.
Within hours, Ms Megawati authorised what was described as an integrated operation involving military, law enforcement, humanitarian and local government personnel. Few people doubt where the emphasis will lie. The opening salvo of the military offensive was the early morning airstrikenear the village of Glee Iniem, about 15 miles outside the provincial capital, Banda Aceh.
The target was a collection of empty buildings, but locals living nearby were terrified by the impact of the three rockets. "The sound from the three bangs was like thunder. They were combined with gunfire, shocking us so we are now afraid to go outside," said Usman Hanfiah, 50.
The airstrike was followed by the parachute drop, which was a little more risky, Col Firdaus claimed. "It was in a grey area, a sort of no-man's land where we weren't sure if there were Gam fighters or not," he said. "This is what the paratroops will be used for throughout this campaign."
About half a dozen skirmishes were reported across the province on the northern tip of Sumatra, but the only Indonesian military fatality was a marine who fell off a boat. Two civilian corpses were taken to a hospital near the town of Bireuen, where officials claimed one was a rebel. The military claimed Gam also burned several schools and government buildings.
Col Firdaus said commanders were not expecting many large, set-piece battles with the guerrillas, who number only 3,000 to 5,000. "Gam have prepared themselves," he said. "They will be using guerrilla tactics and so be seeking to avoid large encounters. "Our aim is to barricade them into small, confined areas and then destroy them."
Dozens of journalists have been embedded with military units, and television viewers were able to sample the parachute drop and several skirmishes. "There is a clear attempt to try and win hearts and minds going on," said one western diplomat in Jakarta. "This is a new chapter in Indonesian military operations." A Gam spokesman, Sofyan Dawod, however, said a couple of dozen civilians had been either killed, beaten or kidnapped. "It's going to be genocide all over again," he said.



Posted in Aceh conflict @ 20 May 2003 00:02 CET by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink






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