Wed, May 14, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Indonesia set to get tough on separatist movement


The Indonesian government said yesterday it will soon issue a decree authorizing a military operation against separatist insurgents in Aceh province, where the military reported that a senior rebel has defected.

"The president will soon issue a decree for the integrated operation," Defense Minister Matori Abdul Djalil told reporters before a Cabinet meeting.

He said President Megawati Sukarnoputri has already asked for a consultative meeting with parliament on today or tomorrow.

Indonesia's military commander said a top rebel had defected.

"We thank God that Amri Abdul Wahab has made a statement to return to the motherland," General Endriartono Sutarto told reporters.

Wahab was military operations commander for the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) rebels before his appointment in December to the Joint Security Committee (JSC), which was monitoring a ceasefire in the province.

The ceasefire has virtually collapsed. A government deadline for GAM to stop pushing for independence and to start disarming expired on Monday, the same day that more than 50 international JSC peace monitors withdrew from the province.

GAM's spokesman Sofyan Daud said Indonesian Kopassus special forces kidnapped Wahab on Monday in an effort to divide the rebel movement as the government prepares for a military offensive.

"It's very clear Amri was kidnapped by 10 Kopassus members," Daud said.

Fresh troops have poured into the Sumatra island province in recent days for the expected military offensive.

Yesterday the military transferred its Aceh command from the Acehnese Major General Djali Yusuf to his chief of staff Endang Suwarya, Elshinta radio reported.

The military has said Yusuf is approaching retirement.

Wahab was one of four GAM representatives on the JSC who were arrested on Friday. They were subsequently declared suspects in bombings in Jakarta and Medan in North Sumatra that police have blamed on GAM.

GAM denies involvement in the bombings.

They were released Sunday on a guarantee from the Henry Dunant Center, which mediated the Dec. 9 peace agreement.

Wahab was seized from his Banda Aceh hotel on Monday, GAM said. Indonesia's police chief, Da'i Bachtiar, said Wahab was yesterday on his way to Jakarta.

Daud, the GAM spokesman, urged security forces to bring Amri to Aceh and present him before reporters so that he can be questioned about his true feelings.

The government says any military operation will be accompanied by humanitarian operations, law enforcement and an effort to restore local government administration.

Humanitarian aid is greatly needed in Bireuen district where since Monday the number of refugees has reached more than 10,000, Mustafa Abdullah Geulanggang, the local government head, said yesterday.

The refugees left their homes to stay at a local school and mosque because they fear renewed fighting.

"Some of the refugees have started to be hit with respiratory tract infections, fevers and diarrhea," he said.

A 20-month-old baby, Aiyub Muzakir, died at the Agung Mosque refugee camp on Monday because of a lack of medicines, Geulanggang said.

Local journalists say some refugees at the Blang Bladeh school have been forced to sleep outside.

An estimated 10,000 people have died since GAM began its struggle for independence in 1976.

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