Military wants green light to act in Aceh

INDONESIA’s President Abdurrahman Wahid may have sent out peace feelers in Aceh, but the country’s military wants to resolve problems in the restive province by force.

The Indonesian armed forces (TNI) is said to have drawn up plans for emergency rule in the country’s westernmost province as violence and bloodletting continue.

Aceh’s military commander Syarifuddin Tippe said yesterday that there was a view among several senior officers in Jakarta that only maximum firepower could wipe out the separatist rebels.

“There is talk now about imposing military rule for Aceh, given that the situation is getting worse,” he told The Straits Times.

Colonel Syarifuddin’s comments come just days after army commander Endriartono Sutarto gave a hard-hitting assessment of the best way to solve the Aceh problem: immediate military operations.

Maintaining that the police have so far been ineffective against the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), he said: “The military believes that troops should be deployed there. The police are not able to fight against the guerillas.”

The TNI’s creeping assertiveness flies in the face of Mr Abdurrahman’s peace overtures just days ago.

The Muslim cleric vowed during a meeting with locals in Banda Aceh on Tuesday that they would not see a return of brutal military operations introduced in the late eighties.

In a direct attack on the army, he said past security measures taken by the central government in the province had been applied “indiscriminately”, and made the Acehnese more defiant of Jakarta. “This approach victimised innocent people … we should not continue this,” he said.

The President rejected an extension of the truce with GAM but backed more peace talks with the rebels, whom he described as “brothers”.

Senior military sources described as “a farce” any attempt to talk to the guerillas.

“We are certainly on a different wavelength with the President on this matter,” a four-star general told The Straits Times. “Why should we be dealing with people who are rebels? By recognising them, we are only legitimising their cause …

“Give us the green light to use force, and we will bring results not just in Aceh, but also Irian Jaya and Maluku.”

With time running out for the civilian government in taking the “soft approach”, analysts believe it is only a matter of time before the TNI gets its way.

Some political observers believe sporadic violence there is part of a strategy by military elements to “white ant” government policy in Aceh to push through its game plan to crack the whip.

But doubts exist in some circles within the beleaguered military establishment about whether emergency rule or excessive force could work.

The TNI would, of course, have the numbers. Up to 10,000 personnel could be deployed if things got really out of hand.

But they might not be up to the task of facing rebels and growing numbers of the population crying for blood.

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