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Megawati to win points on quick Aceh war JAKARTA - Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri is gambling on a quick victory in the war in Aceh. If the military crushes a 27-year insurgency for independence in the oil and gas-rich province within the six months commanders have promised, her chances for re-election next year look good.
But a drawn-out conflict and growing casualty toll would mean Megawati risks losing the support she has gained by rousing nationalist sentiment with her pledge to keep the diverse nation together, analysts and religious leaders say. ''If the military operation continues for a long time, it will be bad for Megawati's reputation,'' said Syafii Maarif, head of the 30-million strong Muhammadiyah, Indonesia's second largest Muslim group.
Since taking office almost two years ago, Megawati, the daughter of charismatic founding president Sukarno, has lost much support, political analysts say. She has come under fire as indecisive, focusing too much on trivial affairs such as opening exhibitions and trade fairs and too little on issues like corruption. But her decision to go to war in Aceh taps a deep nationalistic vein. The offensive, the biggest since Indonesia invaded East Timor in 1975, began on Monday with troops parachuting into the province on the northern tip of Sumatra.
The day after, Megawati said: ''I hope all Indonesians can understand this decision, including the organisations that are based on human rights and democracy.'' 'I believe the majority of people in that troubled province still have the red and white in their soul,'' she added, referring to the colours on Indonesia's flag. Modern Indonesia has never had much sympathy for rebels. Megawati is in tune with that sentiment in her determination to stop Aceh at one end of the archipelago and Papua province at the other from breaking away.
Megawati also knows many voters still resent the loss of East Timor in 1999 and the humiliation of being forced to accept a huge IMF bailout in the late 1990s.

Weary of war

Analysts say Aceh's four million people themselves mostly yearn for peace and are weary of the tug-of-war between autonomy and independence. Ordinary Achenese are caught in the middle of a conflict that has killed more than 10,000 people, most of them civilians. Questions are already being raised over the plight of civilians in the latest offensive with unconfirmed reports of the military committing summary executions.
That has been denied by the military, which has also vowed to punish anyone guilty of abuses. But it is haunted by a long history of allegations of human rights violations in Aceh. Megawati gave the order to strike after eleventh-hour efforts to revive a five-month peace deal fell through on Sunday. Even if there is a successful outcome in Aceh, Megawati needs to do more to secure victory in the country's first direct presidential race next year.
Many ordinary Indonesians believe she has not tackled big problems such as massive unemployment and a lack of foreign investment. ''The government's programme on the economic side, is not running well. Poverty is increasing day by day,'' Maarif said. Others, however, say Megawati has brought needed political stability and note gains in the currency and share market.
If the military did the job well, Sidney Jones of the International Crisis Group think-tank said they would be in a much stronger position to influence next year's elections. ''This would be simply by appearing to be the saviours of the nation...,'' Jones said. ''A military-backed candidate would have a strong edge. It is likely to be Megawati at this stage.''
A single drop of blood?

While generally backing war, local media have been cautious. In an editorial this week, the nationalist Media Indonesia daily said: ''To choose a peaceful solution is indeed a long road to walk, as well as exhausting. But we need to remind Ibu Mega of her promise to solve Aceh without a single drop of blood.'' In a trip there in 2001, Megawati made an emotional apology to the Acehnese for their suffering under past governments and said dialogue was the only way to halt the bloodshed.
The international response to the war has been one of concern, and could heighten if the battle goes off the rails. Unlike East Timor, Aceh's quest for independence has no international backing. Western governments criticise human rights abuses by both sides, but also recognise Indonesian sovereignty.



Posted in Aceh conflict @ 23 May 2003 00:04 CET by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink






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