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Indonesia in all-out bid to crush Aceh rebels JAKARTA - Indonesian troops are pressing ahead with a military offensive against separatists in the province of Aceh. After three months of fighting following the collapse of a peace deal, army commanders said more than 800 Muslim fighters had been killed and around 1,000 captured out of an estimated rebel force of 5,000 or fewer.
The military strike, backed by F-16 warplanes, has left a trail of destruction across the lush rice fields and coconut groves of the province on the tip of Sumatra. But even more devastating has been the violence and intimidation meted out to civilians accused of siding with the rebels, who are fighting for a separate homeland.
Hundreds of activists have fled the province, convinced that it is only a matter of time before they get picked up or "disappeared". In July, Indonesia sentenced a prominent activist, Muhammad Nazar, who called for a referendum, to five years in jail for "defaming the government". The idea of holding a referendum in Aceh to decide its political future makes Indonesia nervous.
In 1999, East Timor overwhelmingly voted to break away from Indonesia, triggering a wave of violent reprisals by Indonesian troops and militias. Jakarta is determined not to repeat that mistake. After decades of chafing under Jakartafs rule, Aceh seemed on the verge of opting for a negotiated settlement to the conflict in which about 12,000 people have died since 1976.
But a December ceasefire brokered by a Swiss humanitarian group failed to translate into serious peace talks, especially after five rebel negotiators were arrested in May on their way to Japan for talks with Indonesian officials. Now the five are on trial for terrorism and subversion, charges that carry the death penalty. Analysts say this flagrant disregard for the role of civilians in political talks reflects the grip of Indonesiafs generals on the levers of power.
President Megawati Sukarnoputri has curried favour with the countryfs powerful army since taking office in 2001, and the bloody assault on Aceh plays directly into the hands of military hardliners, who have a long record of crushing dissent. "The military is determined to finish off the rebels, once and for all," said Sidney Jones, country director of the International Crisis Group, a private think-tank.
In May, Indonesia sent more than 40,000 soldiers to Aceh, its largest deployment since invading East Timor in 1975. Their arrival was covered live by TV reporters who were embedded with Indonesian troops, in an echo of media management in Iraq. Many Indonesians, who are suspicious of talk of self-determination, say they support the crackdown on separatists in Aceh, and there has been little public protest against military actions in the province.
The renewed violence has forced tens of thousands of people out of their villages and into government-run refugee camps. The conflict has also crossed international borders. Malaysia this week arrested 250 Acehnese who fled the fighting and sought refugee status.



Posted in Aceh conflict @ 31 August 2003 00:02 CET by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink






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