Jakarta’s warning to Aceh and Papua : Secession bids will be crushed by force

Security czar Susilo takes a firm line against rebels, and says the most they can expect is special autonomy status.

Indonesia is drawing a line in the sand in its dealings with Aceh and Papua, warning that attempts to secede will be met by force.

Security czar Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said Jakarta’s offer of ‘special autonomy status’ for the two strife-torn provinces was final, and there would be no tolerance for any attempt to hold an East Timor-style vote for self-determination.

Keeping them within the nation was one of the major aims of the government, he said.

His warnings to resource-rich Aceh and Papua provinces come amid simmering tensions in these regions.

President Megawati Sukarnoputri had indicated several times over the last 18 months that one of her top priorities was to resolve problems in these two regions.

Her administration has preferred peaceful dialogue.

But given the weight of nationalist sentiments in her Cabinet and the influence of the hawkish generals in dictating security policy in the regions, force was always considered as ‘an alternative if all else failed’.

Over the past year, Jakarta appeared to have succeeded in the peace option by offering the two provinces special autonomy status under which they can, among other things, retain up to 70 per cent of the revenue from natural resources.

That arrangement was even formalised under a peace pact last month with rebels from the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) who have been fighting for independence since the 70s.

But the agreement could go into a tailspin with the separatists still eyeing independence.

In what is turning out to be a stumbling block to peace in the strife-torn province, GAM officials are maintaining that they want next year’s election to be turned into what observers described as ‘a referendum’ on whether Aceh should stay or break away from Jakarta.

They say such moves had been left open for further negotiation during the peace talks. The peace deal centred on ending hostilities on the ground but not resolving long-term differences.

Similar sentiments exist in Papua where calls for a referendum are mounting, given the human rights abuses of the Indonesian military and exploitation of natural resources in the region.

Sources say continued resentment towards Jakarta in Aceh and Papua has given the armed forces (TNI) a reason to call for hard line measures.

In the broader scheme of things, both provinces are high on TNI’s radar screen.

There continues to be a high presence of military intelligence operatives in the two areas and crack troops are ready to be deployed at short notice in an emergency.

Senior military sources said that the TNI had yet to carry out a blitzkrieg against the separatists because of concerns that the international community, especially the United States, would lash out against such action.

An army general told The Straits Times: ‘The Americans and others want us to give peace a chance in Aceh and Papua.

‘We have, with our proposals on special autonomy.

‘But they are being naive in thinking that the rebels are going to roll over and accept what we have to offer.

‘Force will continue to be an option as long as these separatists dream of an independent state.’

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