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.
“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”
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 civilians.
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
“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 success”.
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.”
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”
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.”
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.”