‘Aceh could be independent in one year’

This may happen if the military does not step up efforts to crush separatist rebels, says top security official.

Aceh could split from Indonesia within a year if the Indonesian armed forces (TNI) does not step up operations to crush the rebel movement in the restive province, a top security official said yesterday.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there was a need for troop reinforcements as the current four battalions of 3,000 soldiers were “weak” against increasingly assertive rebels from the Free Aceh Movement (GAM).

“There is a need for at least another three battalions who can fight a counter-insurgency campaign against the separatists,” he told The Straits Times.

The TNI top brass are planning to add another 2,000 soldiers from the elite Special Forces and the Army Strategic Reserve Command units.

His comments came against a backdrop of increasing violence in Aceh where GAM and security forces continue to battle.

Yesterday, both sides clashed in North Aceh, which had been designated a “security zone” for a two-week period from March 22 following an agreement between Jakarta and GAM during talks in Geneva.

The zones are supposed to be gradually expanded if they are found to be successful in stopping violence.

No casualties were reported from the early morning gunfight near the town of Lhokseumawe.

Government representatives believe that it could be a precursor of more violence in the area.

At least two people have been killed in clashes in North Aceh since it was declared a security zone.

Twenty-seven others have died in violence in other districts since March 22.

On Sunday, three non-governmental organisation personnel involved in the peace process were murdered, adding to the more than 300 casualties in the area over the last year.

There does not appear to be any chance for peace despite several truces signed by Jakarta and GAM in Geneva since last year.

The TNI blames it on the rebels failing to abide by these agreements.

Said the security official: “They are becoming increasingly aggressive and confident that they can do whatever they want because we do not have the firepower to confront them.

“They are intimidating locals to join their cause.”

The source added that given the prevailing climate in Aceh in which GAM has virtually free rein to move around with impunity, it is very likely that the province could separate from Indonesia within a year.

The military solution to prevent Aceh going the way of East Timor: Boost troop levels for a crackdown.

But the main obstacle to that will be prevailing concerns at home and abroad on whether the troops will operate beyond their mandate, which could lead to more accusations of human-rights abuses.

Already, some believe the military may be sabotaging peace efforts by engineering violence, and thereby justifying the use of force.

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