Forget peace talks, just crush rebels : Jakarta

The military gets crucial parliamentary support to use force against separatist rebels in the troubled province of Aceh.

The Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI) has received crucial backing from legislators to use force against separatists in Aceh as a military offensive grew imminent in the troubled province.

But doubts emerged whether the TNI’s hardline option would be effective given the deeply entrenched nature of the insurgency in the area that is complicated by guerilla warfare and the military’s acute shortage of weapons.

The military generals, having had their plans stalled by previous civilian administrations, appeared to be riding on a wave of unprecedented political support for their security policy since ex-president Suharto’s fall in 1998.

Mr Amris Fuad Hassan, who attended a parliamentary commission hearing on Monday where the newly installed army chief, General Endriartono Sutarto, made a pitch for the use of force not just in Aceh but other trouble spots such as Irian Jaya, said ‘peaceful dialogue is no longer an option’.

‘The unity of Indonesia should never be taken for granted,’ he told The Straits Times.

‘We cannot tolerate any form of separatist movement in this country. Very soon, it will be Kalimantan, Riau and others wanting to jump onto the bandwagon for independence. The armed forces should not hesitate anymore because they have our backing.’

His comments follow a plea by Gen Endriartono that the TNI could not do anything to crush the separatists if it did not have the backing of legislators.

Observers said the military might have secured ‘vital insurance’ by securing parliamentary support for a blitzkrieg against the Free Aceh Movement (GAM). And with a political umbrella now, it could crush the rebels without any fear of being accused of human rights abuses.

The TNI has been tightening the screws on the rebels for the past six months.

For a start, it carved out another strategic zone for itself in the country by deploying troops there and appointing a one-star general to head the command. It scored another victory by earlier killing GAM commander Tengku Abdullah Syafi’ie.

But this has hardened the separatists’ resolve to slug it out with Jakarta.

Security analyst Ken Conboy of the Control Risks Group noted: ‘GAM, in fact, has persevered on and off for nearly three decades with almost no formal military hierarchy.

‘And with … a newer generation of secessionists operating from Malaysia still intact, there is little likelihood of GAM throwing in the towel any decade soon.’

The difficulty for the TNI is to fight an outfit that resorts to guerilla tactics rather than conventional warfare – something that could sap the morale of already demoralised soldiers.

Despite deploying an elite reconnaissance unit and more troops on the ground, there is little evidence so far that the TNI could weather the storm effectively.

This is made even harder by the fact that the military is grappling with a shortage of anti-guerilla weapons.

Gen Endriartono made it clear during his meeting with legislators that this was a pressing problem as he made a pitch for more funds.

The TNI seems to have won over the legislators despite gaping holes in its policy towards Aceh.

Mr Amris said: ‘There is no other option available to us. Force is the only way to keep Aceh in Indonesia.’

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