Indonesia starts attack in Aceh

The Indonesian government has started a major offensive against separatist positions in Aceh, hours after the Indonesian president put the province under martial law.

    Free Aceh Movement leader
    Mahmood Malik emerges after
    12 hours of talks

    Reports coming from the war- torn province said Indonesian troops launched rocket attacks on rebels. TV footage broadcast on local stations showed Hercules planes dropping scores of troops near the airport.

    Smoke was seen rising from a set of positions close to the airport of the provincial capital Banda Aceh after two war planes attacked them. 

    Officials on the island said around 700 more marines had come ashore near the industrial town of Lhoksecumawe.  

    Just after midnight on Sunday, President Megawati Sukarnoputri gave the go-ahead for war against the rebels after last-ditch peace talks in Tokyo collapsed.

    "The offensive has begun...Two planes launched the rockets, many of them," Major General Erwin Sujono, an operational commander, told reporters at the airport without elaborating on the precise targets and their location.

    Another military official said offensive patrols had begun

    and operations would focus on six parts of Aceh.

    In Banda Aceh, there was little sign of martial law as

    children went to school, shops opened and traffic clogged the

    city's busy central market.

    Indonesia already has over 46,000 security personnel in the region, including special forces, but Jakarta has planned to send up to 50,000 more.

    The government can call upon 23 naval vessels and warplanes. Tanks and amphibious vehicles as well as bigger artillery pieces have already been transported, according to Jane's Defence, a military journal. 

    Aceh independence fighters, numbering around 5,000, have mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and stocks of M-16s and AK 47s.

    27 years of struggle, but Aceh
    independence forces may have
    the worst yet to come

    The fight for independence has already cost an estimated 10,000 civilian lives, with the latest truce only lasting since 9 December.

    Jakarta’s ultimatum of Indonesian sovereignty over the oil-and-gas-rich region on the northern tip of Sumatra effectively prevented any agreement, according to GAM (Free Aceh Movement) leader Mahmood Malik.

    Failed talks

    Sastrohandoyo (L):
    Sovereignty not

    “The Indonesia government wishes to continue their war on the Acehnese”,  Malik said after 12 hours of continuous negotiation. “We will fight. We are ready. We have been fighting already for 27 years”, added Malik.

    Indonesia’s chief negotiator, Wiryono Sastrohandoyo said in Tokyo that the country’s sovereignty was not negotiable.

    The United States, Japan, the European Union and the World Bank have all expressed disappointment at the failure of talks. Swiss-based mediators, the Henry Dunant Centre, said their 17 hours of effort to promote genuine negotiations were unfortunately unsuccessful.

    Earlier, Indonesian police had arrested five leading GAM negotiators before they even had an opportunity to participate in the talks. But talks had focused on ending the fighting and not on the declaration of independence.

    Megawati has put Indonesian forces under the control of military chief Major General Endany Suwarya, and martial law runs for six months, when it can be extended.

    Many Achenese such as Cut Yuli, who runs a restaurant, appeared scared but resigned to continued hardship. “I surrender everything to God. I hope there is no operation, but if there is, that it’s not as severe as those before”.


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