Fri, 09 May 2003

'Military operations never achieve results'

Tiarma Siboro, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The government needs more efforts to rebuild the trust of the Acehnese people in the government and not a military operation as such approaches have never succeeded in the country's history in eradicating secessionist movements, observers say.

Former Special Forces officer Maj. Gen. (ret) Samsuddin and sociologist Otto Syamsuddin Ishak suggested that the government learn from its experience of the military operation to crush Free Aceh Movement (GAM) rebels between 1988 and 1998 that had instead spurred the resistance movement in the resource-rich province.

"We have seen that despite terror and torture against the Acehnese people during the 10-year operation in the province, the secessionist movement there remains strong and Jakarta has failed to win their hearts because human rights violations were not properly solved," said Samsuddin, who is a former member of the National Commission on Human Rights.

The examples of East Timor and Papua, Samsuddin said, provide further evidence that a military operation would fuel demands for independence. Indonesia lost East Timor in 1999.

Otto said that instead of resolving the problems, the use of force would burden the country's already battered economy and revive military dominance in the country, which goes against the reform movement launched in 1998.

"On top of that, the military operation would result in human rights violations and would expand the secessionist movement in Aceh," Otto said.

The government has moved closer to announcing an operation to restore security in Aceh, as the rebels have refused to comply with Jakarta's demands for disarmament and their acceptance of the unitary state of Indonesia as preconditions to resume peace talks.

It will be the largest military operation conducted in Indonesian history, with between 40,000 and 50,000 troops involved.

In a show of strength, TNI has also readied 13 Scorpion tanks, 23 amphibious tanks, helicopters and warships to fight between an estimated 8,000 and 10,000 rebels who are equipped with automatic rifles plus grenade launcher mortars (GLM). Indonesia has also moved two F-16 and four Hawk-200 jet fighters to an air base in the North Sumatra capital of Medan from their home base in Madiun, East Java.

Domestic and international pressure has been mounting on both the government and GAM to give peace a chance.

With the May 12 deadline for GAM to accept the conditions for peace talks drawing near, violence continues to flare up in Aceh.

Two soldiers, identified as First Pvt. Hendra Saputra and First Pvt. Soekamto, were injured after some 20 rebels ambushed and attacked them on their way to Bireuen from Lhokseumawe in North Aceh, Antara reported on Thursday.

A local councillor, Husaini, was also attacked by a group of armed people believed to be GAM members. Husaini escaped the onslaught unharmed.

Samsuddin suggested that the government intensify intelligence and territorial operations to build trust among the Acehnese people, before it turns to an operation to enforce the law against the rebels.

"The military operation to crush rebels will be drawn out, without a guarantee it will achieve its goals," Samsuddin said.

It took Indonesian troops 10 years to quell an armed rebellion waged by the Darul Islam in several areas in the country in the 1950s, while in Papua up until now the military has not managed to stop the secessionist movement which began in the 1960s.

Otto said the government could emulate the "politics of ethics" conducted by the Dutch colonialists.

He likened the government's campaigns for humanitarian assistance, justice and restoration of local government services to the politics of ethics.

"These campaigns must be maintained without the military operation," he said.

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