Military clamours for martial law in Aceh


INDONESIA’S military yesterday urged President Abdurrahman Wahid to declare martial law in Aceh even as Parliament rebuffed his proposal for a referendum in the restive province.

But Mr Abdurrahman continued to insist that the rebel territory be allowed to vote on its future. “I myself think that there must be a referendum in Aceh,” he told Parliament yesterday, without specifying if the vote would be for independence or more autonomy.

Saying that different views on the referendum should be aired, he added: “Let us fight, let us debate it, as long as it is conducted in line with the law.”

The President, who is facing increasing pressure to resolve the Aceh imbroglio, was earlier told by Parliamentary Speaker Akbar Tandjung that the country’s legislators were opposed to proposals for any referendum in the province – even if it excluded independence as an option.

Thousands are fleeing Aceh amid rising fears of attacks by the separatist Free Aceh guerillas on or around Dec 4, the anniversary of the movement’s founding, if Jakarta does not allow a referendum on independence.

Referring to the rising tension, Army Chief of Staff General Subagyo Hadisiswoyo told reporters in Medan yesterday: “To me, the situation in Aceh is conducive to the implementation of martial law.”

Senior military sources told The Straits Times that the proposal was put forward to President Abdurrahman earlier this week, based on intelligence assessments of the ground.

Said an army general: “People are being intimidated and terrorised as a result of separatist activities. Public property is being vandalised and destroyed.

“These are criminal acts. If we don’t have the right therapy for such actions, we won’t be able to get the desired results of peace and stability for the Acehnese.”

National Police chief General Roesmanhadi first mooted the idea of martial law publicly on Wednesday when he disclosed that the police were not prepared to take over from combat troops being pulled out from Aceh.

He said his men would face problems in locations where guerilla warfare was being carried out by the Free Aceh separatist movement.

He indicated that the areas where martial law could be applied were in Pidie, north, south and west Aceh.

Political observers believe that the military’s pitch for martial law had a strong political dimension as well.

Concerned with Mr Abdurrahman’s wavering public stance on the referendum issue, the military could be signalling its intent to go against his repeated public pledge in favour of a vote in the province.

Military and Cabinet sources told The Straits Times that while the options to be voted on in a referendum had yet to be agreed on formally, the Indonesian leader had already made up his mind that there would be no independence for Aceh.

The key question now was to find a solution that would drown out calls in the province to break away.

But in his public statements seeking to appease the Acehnese, the president has only deepened concern in the military, government and legislature.

Said a Cabinet Minister who declined to be named: “He is firmly against independence for Aceh. But he is now carrying the burden of his earlier statements to the media. That has resulted in the mixed signals that he is sending out to appease different sides without realising that it is causing confusion on the matter.”

A meeting of parliamentary leaders on Wednesday suggested that there was no need for a referendum if the Acehnese were granted greater autonomy and action was taken against those found guilty of human rights violations in the province.

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