Sun, Nov 23, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Indonesia replaces military chief after failed operation

AFP , JAKARTA

The government military chief of Indonesia's insurgency-hit Aceh province was replaced yesterday after leading a huge operation that has so far failed to capture any senior rebels.

Major General Bambang Darmono transferred his post to Brigadier General George Toisutta in a ceremony led by Indonesian armed forces chief Endriartono Sutarto in the North Aceh town of Lhokesumawe yesterday morning, the military said.

Darmono, who will now become Sutarto's assistant, told reporters after the ceremony that he was disappointed by his failure to seize any key figures in the rebel Free Aceh Movement (GAM) since arriving in the province on April 19.

"If you ask me what one wish that I have not yet achieved, that would be the arrest of GAM leaders," he was quoted by state Antara news agency as saying.

Indonesia on May 19 pulled out of a ceasefire with GAM, accusing it of cheating on an earlier truce which had brought a lull in 26 years of fighting. It sent 40,000 troops and police to wipe out the rebels.

On Wednesday it renewed a military emergency status until next May, despite protests from human rights groups and concern by foreign donor nations.

Sutarto said earlier this month that the decision to reassign Darmono was part of a "routine military reshuffle."

But a military source here told AFP that the main reason behind the transfer was due to the death of eight army special forces soldiers during a botched rehearsal for a military anniversary parade in Lhokseumawe last month.

They died from drowning after they were dropped into the sea from a helicopter with their bodies tied in a rope.

Munir, coordinator of the Jakarta-based Impartial human rights group, said Darmono was also being punished for failure to achieve promised rebel arrests.

"He was being over-confident with the military's success in Aceh, evidently shown by his failure to arrest any top GAM leaders during his term," Munir said.

He said Darmono -- known for his no-holds-barred leadership style -- was also criticized by his superiors for putting "too much" pressure on his subordinates to make major arrests.

Sutarto acknowledged earlier this month that the huge operation costing 1.2 trillion rupiah (US$141.2) has failed to catch or kill top rebel leaders and that most rebel units were still operative in the jungle.

In a latest report of casualties yesterday, military spokesman Ahmad Yani Basuki said troops had killed seven rebels in four districts since Thursday.

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