No end to Aceh bloodshed

Indonesia's war with Aceh separatist rebels enters its seventh month on Wednesday, with almost 1600 people killed and no end in sight to the bloodshed.

    The Indonesian military has been accused of rights abuses

    Some analysts say Jakarta's biggest military operation for 25 years

    , launched under martial law, has pushed the Free

    Aceh Movement (GAM) into a corner.

    Others question the military's toll for rebel dead, pointing out

    that relatively few weapons have been seized, and note that top

    guerrilla leaders are still at large.

    All agree that military force alone cannot solve the country's

    most intractable separatist problem.

    "The government's target to destroy GAM's military power has

    been achieved," said military analyst M.T. Arifin, who gave the most

    upbeat assessment.

    Death toll 

    "GAM has been significantly weakened militarily, so have its

    social and political networks."

    Military spokesmen in Aceh say more than 1100 guerrillas and 67

    police or soldiers have been killed since the government

    pulled out of a ceasefire and sent a 40,000-strong force to wipe

    out the rebels.

    "The government's target to destroy GAM's military power has

    been achieved"

    M.T. Arifin,
    Military analyst

    They say more than 2000 rebels or their supporters have been

    arrested or have surrendered and 485 weapons have been seized.

    The army also says 395 civilians have been killed and puts the

    blame on GAM, which has been fighting for independence since 1976.

    Both sides in past campaigns committed gross abuses against


    Martial law

    Arifin said Acehnese have a new sense of security but

    "normalisation of economic life remains a long shot. Many local

    administrations and public services are not functioning".

    This should be the focus of the second six-month period of

    martial law, he said.

    Meanwhile, Arbi Sanit, from the University of Indonesia, said troops have

    successfully cornered GAM but "the military operation cannot solve

    all the problems".

    "So far I think it is only thing that is working. The next

    six-month period should address issues like the economy,

    humanitarian problems, law enforcement and governance," he said.

    Authorities have restricted access by foreign reporters and aid

    workers to the province on Sumatra island, hampering impartial

    assessment of the operation.

    Civilians have been the first
    casualty of the Aceh war

    'Little success'

    "It's difficult to get an independent assessment," said Sidney

    Jones, Indonesia project director of the International Crisis Group

    of analysts.

    She said that in terms of weapons seized and the fact that no

    senior commanders have been captured, "there seems to be little


    Jones said the discrepancy between the number of weapons seized

    and the number of people reported killed, captured or surrendered

    needs clarification.

    "The real question is how many of these people

    described as rebels were in fact GAM."

    She said a one-time contribution to guerrilla funds did not make

    someone a GAM member. "A lot of people were under extreme pressure

    to give money, or to shelter GAM members in their houses."

    Civilian casualties

    Jones also emphasised that "GAM is responsible for a very

    serious number of civilian casualties".

    And human rights lawyer Hendardi said obtaining valid data on

    civilian casualties was difficult "because we have been kept in the

    dark and those who tried to investigate were threatened".

    Hendardi said force had never solved Aceh's problems.

    "There's no solution in sight unless the government ceases the

    violent way and goes back to the negotiating table, if necessary

    involving a third party such as the United Nations."

    "There's no solution in sight unless the government ceases the

    violent way and goes back to the negotiating table, if necessary

    involving a third party such as the United Nations"

    Human Rights lawyer

    Munir, of the Imparsial human rights group, complained that "all

    the information given to the public comes from the government and

    they are making up things as they wish."

    Rampant abuses

    He said there had been "rampant rights abuses such as forced

    displacement, rapes, forced disappearances and summary killings as

    well as other social and political abuses".

    "Both sides commit abuses but the TNI's (military's)

    contribution is bigger."

    Arifin said there "have been a few excesses but the military has

    taken action against the perpetrators".

    But Jones said reports she had received were that troops were

    behaving somewhat better than in earlier military operations in

    Aceh. "But Brimob (a paramilitary police force) is as bad as ever."



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