Thu, 20 Nov 2003

TNI to mount hunt for top GAM leaders as offensive extended

2Nani Farida, The Jakarta Post, Banda Aceh, Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam

The Indonesian Military (TNI) plans to intensify its manhunt for five leaders of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) during the second six-month period of martial law in the province.

Aceh martial law administrator Maj. Gen. Endang Suwarya said on Wednesday the military would focus its operation on tracing the movement of the most-wanted rebels, as well as cutting off the group's supply of arms and logistics.

"We have not succeeded in capturing the rebel figures. Our challenge is to intensify our operation," Endang said.

He was referring to GAM chief commander Muzakir Manaf, Darwis Jeunib, the GAM commander overseeing Jeunib, GAM spokesman Sofyan Dawod, Ishak Daud, the GAM commander overseeing Peurelak, and Tengku Abraham Muda.

Endang also said the military had located the routes where the rebels were bringing in arms along the province's eastern coast.

During the first six months of martial law in Aceh, which ended on Wednesday, the military captured 37 of about 140 top GAM figures.

Also during that period, 1,106 suspected GAM members were killed and 488 weapons seized. Another 1,544 suspected rebels were captured while 504 separatists surrendered.

Endang said after six months the strength of GAM had been reduced to 45 percent, but a more intensive military operation was needed as the guerrillas remained in control of about 70 percent of their arms.

"Due to the GAM's possession of arms, we need an extension of martial law," Endang said.

President Megawati Soekarnoputri signed a decree extending martial law in Aceh for another six months on Tuesday, on the grounds that the first six months of the military operation "has not yet achieved the maximum results, as seen by the existence of remaining members of GAM".

The military lost 76 soldiers and the police 13 personnel during the offensive to crush the rebels. The conflict has also claimed the lives of 395 civilians, including two foreigners.

Another 157 civilians are reportedly being held hostages by GAM, including RCTI journalists Ersa Siregar and Ferry Santoro.

Endang said only 273 of about 6,000 villages in the province were under the total control of the military. No fewer than 1,000 military officers have been assigned to the villages to help local administrations fight insurgency.

The second six months of the military operation will be led by Brig. Gen. George Toisutta, formerly the Jakarta Military chief of staff. He will replace Maj. Gen. Bambang Darmono.

TNI chief Gen. Endriartono Sutarto will officiate the transfer of duty in Banda Aceh on Saturday.

Bambang is being reassigned to the TNI Headquarters as chief of staff in charge of people's welfare.