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Business as usual in the capital BANDA ACEH - The Saturday market at Pasar Aceh Central here is bustling with shoppers buying fish, fruits, meat and vegetables. Except for two policemen directing traffic – consisting mostly of motorised tricycles and mini buses – there is no uniformed personnel at the market that is one of the liveliest spots in this capital of Aceh.
The light presence of uniformed military personnel here belies the fact that Aceh is under martial law since May 19, after the five-month ceasefire between Indonesia and Free Aceh Movement (GAM) collapsed. Indonesia military spokesman Colonel Ditya Soedarsono said Banda Aceh was peaceful because the military had control of it.
He said the ongoing air, land and sea offensive by about 50,000 military and police to crush GAM – which has about 5,000 fighters – was being played out outside Banda Aceh in jungles, villages and hills. Ditya said the separatist fighters armed with M16s and AK47s as well as mortar and rocket-propelled grenades, were spread out all over Aceh – which from its northern tip to southern tip is about 350km long.
“They have 100 fighters in one area and 300 fighters in other areas around the province,” he said. He added that the military had classified villages in this oil-and-gas-rich province of 4.4 million people, according to three colours. “White is for villages whose population love Indonesia, green is for those who have dual loyalty – love Indonesia and also GAM, and black is for those who are fighting against the country,” he said.
The conflict is like a cat and mouse game. The military, Ditya said, had to locate the highly-mobile separatist fighters who had retreated to the jungle or melted into the civilian population. “We have difficulties in distinguishing between rebels and civilians as they (GAM fighters) have taken off their uniforms and hidden their weapons,” he said. To distinguish civilians and GAM fighters, the military will issue new identity cards to Aceh residents this month.
Despite problems in distinguishing the enemy, the military has claimed success. Indonesian military commander Gen Endriartono Sutarto said on Wednesday that in the first two weeks, the military managed to locate and reclaim GAM strongholds across the province. “Our original plan was that within two months we would identify their (GAM) location and reclaim them.
“However, we made it in only two weeks. “We expect that within the next two months, we will manage to force GAM members to stay away from the villages and leave the people alone,” he added.



Posted in Aceh conflict @ 01 June 2003 00:03 CET by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink






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