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General: Martial law may be extended in Aceh JAKARTA - Indonesia's top general says Aceh operations are 'ahead of schedule', but admit the authorities may extend martial law for the province beyond the current six-month order. The military and the police have also asked Parliament for an additional fund of US$220 million (S$385 million) to finance the campaign against the separatist Free Aceh Movement.
While the military campaign goes on, government officials step up efforts to bat aside criticisms of Jakarta's latest policies, including curbs on press freedom and human rights activists. Despite a mounting casualty count and reports of civilians suffering, top Cabinet members seek to reassure that Jakarta is sending more humanitarian aid up north.
But six weeks after Indonesia began its latest war in Aceh, talks of a quick victory are being replaced by indications that Jakarta is preparing for a protracted campaign. Analysts say troops' actions and worsening conditions for civilians lead to more resentment towards Jakarta's rule, and possibly, towards sympathy for separatist ideals.
On Thursday, armed forces commander General Endriartono Sutarto said troops had taken most rebel areas within the last month and a half - much faster than the four-month timetable generals initially projected. He said: 'We can see the operation has succeeded in significantly reducing rebel strength. Things are going well, better than expected.'
Spin-control officials are never busier, as well. Foreign Ministry spokesman Marty Natalegawa told reporters yesterday the authorities only meant to protect civilians, and not to shut down coverage of the Aceh war, when they restricted journalists' access to the province. Foreign reporters now have to register and wait for approval from at least four different government agencies before getting clearance for Aceh, and their movements are limited to major population centres in the province.
At least two Indonesian reporters have lost their jobs allegedly due to pressure from senior military officers who had been displeased by their coverage of the war. And an Aceh court this week sentenced an activist who campaigned for Aceh independence to five years in jail, a move that drew fire from human rights groups and other governments including the United States.
Officials now say such decisions are handed down by an independent judiciary and should not be the focus of criticism from abroad. Social Affairs Minister Bachtiar Chamsyah, meanwhile, is busy fighting off media reports that refugees starve and go without proper medical care in Aceh camps. Aid workers familiar with the situation in Aceh say Indonesia's promised humanitarian programme for the Acehnese has yet to materialise, even as Vice-President Hamzah Haz says that such initiatives 'are not ignored' by the government.
Observers, however, note Indonesia seems to be losing control, and the Aceh campaign looks set to degenerate into the prolonged military occupation favoured by the regime of former president Suharto. Television news clips showing soldiers pointing rifles at civilians or detainees who had clearly been beaten up by soldiers do nothing to assure the Acehnese of Jakarta's goodwill and good-governance abilities.
Ms Sidney Jones, who heads the Jakarta office of the International Crisis Group, said: 'I see no indication of a quick victory here, no indication of winning the hearts and minds of the Acehnese. Many factors instead contribute to more resentment towards Jakarta.' Indeed, President Megawati Sukarnoputri has already said she may extend the initial six-month martial-law period for Aceh.
Analysts say such an arrangement ultimately benefits the military, which stands to get more money from the government to fund its operations and to reassert its role as the guardian of internal security not only in Aceh, but also in the rest of the country.



Posted in Aceh conflict @ 05 July 2003 00:01 CET by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink






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