Wed, May 21, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Indonesian troops told to `exterminate' separatists in Aceh

AFP , BANDA ACEH, INDONESIA

Indonesia's military chief ordered his men yesterday to "exterminate" Aceh separatist guerrillas who refuse to surrender as a huge offensive in the province went into its second day.

"Hunt them down and exterminate them," General Endriartono Sutarto told around 400 officers in a briefing in the provincial capital.

Indonesia has launched its biggest military operation since the 1975 invasion of East Timor in an attempt to finish off the Free Aceh Movement (GAM). Thousands of troops, backed up by aircraft and warships, are taking part.

Sutarto said rebels would be well treated if they give up.

"But if they continue to be stubborn and raise arms, and continue to cause suffering to the people, then your sole duty is to exterminate them," he said.

He ordered soldiers to avoid civilian casualties and said any excesses against civilians would bring severe punishment.

"What you are doing here now is being broadcast all over the world," Sutarto told them.

"If there are soldiers who do violate [the order] and cause suffering to people in the field, then just shoot them in the head," he told the officers.

The assault began early Monday, hours after last-ditch peace talks broke down in Tokyo. Hundreds of extra troops parachuted into the province on Sumatra island or waded ashore from landing craft in the first deployment of reinforcements.

The military said resistance so far was lighter than expected but blamed rebels for torching scores of schools.

"They [GAM] are continuing to look for targets and keep moving but their level of resistance is smaller than we had thought," said Lieutenant Colonel Ahmad Yani Basuki, spokesman for the military operation.

Seven rebels had been arrested and five killed so far, he told ElShinta radio.

Basuki said there were some firefights but no major clashes yesterday. One soldier was injured in a brief clash in Bireuen district.

He said no one was hurt in another brief gunfight in the same district.

The military said an airborne battalion, normally around 600 men, arrived yesterday at Takengon airport in Central Aceh.

The deputy chief of the Aceh education office, Anaz Muhammad Adam, said that 179 schools in six districts had been set ablaze -- including 78 in Bireuen and 74 in Pidie.

School burnings have been common in the past. The army says GAM sees such schools as an imposition of the Indonesian education system in the province.

Officials said on Monday there were 28,000 soldiers or marines in Aceh plus 8,000 regular police and 2,000 paramilitary police. They are facing off against an estimated 5,000 guerrillas with 2,000 light weapons.

An estimated 10,000 people, most of them civilians, have been killed in the conflict since 1976. The most recent peace pact had lasted only since Dec. 9.

The military said the assault could last months and might involve aerial and naval gunfire against rebel bases. A plane rocketed suspected rebel bases on Monday.

The government says the assault was prompted by GAM's refusal at the Tokyo talks formally to end its independence struggle and to accept special autonomy.

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