Thu, 28 Aug 2003

Only 35 percent of GAM forces destroyed so far

Tiarma Siboro, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

With more than 35,000 troops on the ground, Jakarta has only managed to incapacitate 35 percent of Aceh's 5,000-strong rebel force so far, more than three months after the joint operation was launched on May 19.

Coordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said on Wednesday that government troops had also only seized about 15 percent of the weapons possessed by the separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM).

Initial military estimates put the number of weapons owned by GAM at slightly over 2,000.

Military leaders claimed earlier that government troops had taken full control of the country's westernmost province, where GAM rebels have been fighting for independence for the resource- rich province since 1976. More than 10,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed since then.

Susilo, a retired four-star Army general, said Wednesday that at least 761 rebels had been killed and 546 others injured in armed clashes with government troops since May 19, when the government launched the "joint operation", which was supposed to have included a humanitarian operation, security operation, and law enforcement drive.

On the government side, at least 46 soldiers and 13 police personnel had died, he said.

He also said that some 460 rebels had been arrested and were now undergoing police and military interrogation, or were being readied to face trial.

"It means we have incapacitated 1,767 of the approximately 5,000 GAM rebels," Susilo told reporters.

"I have instructed the Aceh martial law administrator to continue intensifying the pressure on the rebels, and to target GAM leaders," he said.

The security forces in Aceh had also confiscated 339 weapons and 335 homemade bombs.

Susilo further stressed that Jakarta would not withdraw its troops from the war-torn province even after the expiry of the six-month deadline set for the end of the military offensive.

Entering the fourth month of the military campaign in Aceh, the TNI claimed that it was now intensifying intelligence efforts targeted at GAM leaders.

On Tuesday, the military bombarded several locations with rockets and bombs dropped from U.S.-made F-16 Fighting Falcons and OV-10 Broncos.

Susilo brushed aside the possibility of talks with the rebels, saying that GAM had only one option -- surrender to the government.

"For the government, there will be no more dialog. We have finalized the issue of the unitary state, offered the province special autonomy status and asked GAM rebels to put down their weapons.

"The United Nations has assured us that it would not support the establishment of Aceh as an independent state," Susilo told reporters after chairing a meeting on political and security affairs that discussed various issues, including Aceh.

Facilitated by the Switzerland-based Henry Dunant Centre (HDC), the government and GAM agreed on a peace deal in December last year, which, among other things, offered special autonomy to the country's second richest province after Papua in terms of natural resources, as well as the imposition of a modified form of sharia.

The agreement also said that GAM would lay down its weapons in stages.

But when the accord collapsed, Jakarta declared martial war in the province and sent thousands of troops there in an attempt to crush GAM, despite protests from rights activists who feared that the Jakarta was intent on repeating the sort of widespread rights violations that occurred when the province was designated a military operations zone (DOM) from 1989 through 1999.