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Calls for restraint as Indonesia steps ups offensive BANDA ACEH - Hundreds of Indonesian troops poured into Aceh province to crush pro-independence rebels today but the United States and Australia urged the government and the insurgents to get back to negotiations. The military began one of its biggest operations yet after President Megawati Sukarnoputri declared martial law in Aceh just hours after peace talks in Tokyo with the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) broke down late yesterday.
Top GAM leaders said in Japan that they were determined to fight on until they won independence. "We are ready to fight, we will fight to the end," GAM leader Malik Mahmud said in an interview to Kyodo News. The Indonesian military said the assault could last up to six months and might involve aerial and naval gunfire against rebel bases.
In Washington State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said: "We deeply regret that the government of Indonesia and the Free Aceh Movement forfeited a rare opportunity to advance a peace process with the assistance of the international community." He said that Washington "does regard the problem of Aceh as one that is not amenable to a solution by use of military force", calling on the two sides to return to the negotiating table as soon as possible.
Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said Canberra had consistently backed efforts to develop a special autonomy package to Aceh. "We hope that it's going to be possible to get back on to the diplomatic path before too long," he said. Early today, an OV-10 Bronco aircraft fired rockets at positions near the airport outside Banda Aceh before almost 470 soldiers parachuted from six Hercules aircraft into the airport compound.
There were no reports of injuries from the rocket attack and no resistance to the parachute drop. In Bireuen district 500 marines arrived by landing craft. The operation suffered its first fatality when one of them died in an accident, said national military spokesman Major General Syafrie Syamsuddin. He said in a briefing that 28,000 troops are already in the province. Another 500 would parachute tomorrow into the Takengon area in Central Aceh.
"These have become targets of the operation," Syamsuddin said, indicating seven areas highlighted in red on a map to mark suspected GAM concentrations throughout the province. An estimated 10,000 people, most of them civilians, have been killed in the conflict since 1976. The latest peace pact had lasted only since December 9.
Syamsuddin said GAM had used the ceasefire to add 2,140 recruits and 516 weapons. He said its current strength was about 5,000 with 2,000 weapons. Military chief General Endriartono Sutarto said the army could "suppress the power of GAM to a minimum" within six months. Top security minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said early today that GAM's refusal to end its 27-year struggle for independence prompted the assault.
Swiss-based mediators the Henry Dunant Centre - backed by the United States, the European Union and Japan - had called the Tokyo meeting in a final attempt to avert war. While the talks were underway, Yudhoyono declared that GAM must accept the special autonomy granted to Aceh, drop demands for independence and start disarming.
The meeting foundered after GAM said it could not abandon its independence goal. In Japan GAM's deputy leader and "foreign minister" Zaini Abdullah, expressed hopes of intervention led by the United States to defuse the situation. "The United States will do something because they don't like the war," he said. However, he admitted, "I don't know exactly what they can do."
GAM military spokesman Sofyan Dawood called for a general strike from today and urged industries such as ExxonMobil's Arun natural gas plant to shut down. "We don't want to attack vital projects but if the military or police who guard the projects make a sweeping (search for rebels), we will attack military or police there."



Posted in Aceh conflict @ 20 May 2003 00:03 CET by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink






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