Thu, 22 May 2003

'Aceh operation will end in anticlimax'

Tiarma Siboro, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Many in military circles believe that the outcome of the military operation in Aceh will end in an anticlimax, believing that Free Aceh Movement (GAM) rebels will not choose to head into a cold- blooded struggle.

A senior military officer said that many rebel leaders had in fact fled Aceh and headed for safer places such as North Sumatra and Malaysia.

It is possible that those running overseas will launch a political campaign to draw international support.

Meanwhile, those fleeing to other parts of Indonesia could plan terror attacks, the officer warned.

The officer also predicted that war in Aceh would end in an anticlimax, just like the U.S.-led military invasion of Iraq, which did not see widespread warfare in Baghdad.

He said he did not believe that GAM would engage the military for a long time, even in guerrilla warfare.

Another military officer, who has launched an intelligence operation in the region, said he believed that once a large-scale military operation began, GAM members "will simply surrender to us".

"The current strategy will be more effective for soldiers to avoid rights violations. We will intensify intelligence to separate the common people from GAM rebels as well as to take into custody those surrendering to the Republic (of Indonesia).

"I predict that once we launch a large-scale operation against several GAM camps ... I foresee that only few militant members will keep fighting," the source said.

Besides conducting an intelligence operation, the military will also cut off the supply flow of GAM.

The military estimates that GAM has about 5,000 men equipped with no more than 2,000 weapons. However, since the humanitarian pause promoted by then president Abdurrahman Wahid in 2000, GAM has recruited 3,000 more members and increased its military strength by forging deals with arms dealers from both Jakarta and abroad.

Currently GAM rebels are equipped with some automatic rifles, including SS-1s, AK-47s, AK-54s and grenade launchers.

However, the intelligence officer believes that members recruited after 2000 are not as militant as their seniors because most of the new recruits come from towns and are not accustomed to living in the jungle and as such are not prepared for lengthy guerrilla warfare.

To counter guerrilla warfare, the Indonesian Military (TNI) has planned to deploy at least 50,000 troops to crush the rebels.

The first source said the huge deployment was needed to secure the people as well as vital installations in the province, including those belonging to gas company PT Arun NGL and oil company ExxonMobile Oil Indonesia in Lhokseumawe.

Demonstrating its strength, TNI has also readied 13 Scorpion tanks, 23 amphibious tanks belonging to the Navy, 12 regular Navy tanks, two F-16 jet fighters, four Hawk-200s, six Hercules, one Superpuma, five Twinpack helicopters and six OV-10 Bronco aircraft.

TNI predicts that the first phase of the operation will take six months, and another one-and-half years to restore security and order in the province, the source said.

He said the military was fully prepared for battle and crush the rebellion.