Wed, Jan 12, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Amnesty offered to rebels who help with relief effort


Indonesian military officials have offered rebels who have been fighting a separatist war for over two decades in the northern province of Aceh temporary amnesty if they hand over their weapons and help efforts to rebuild the tsunami-stricken province.

Commander-in-chief of the Indonesian military (TNI) General Endriartono Sutarto said the military would not "for the time being" arrest any members of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) who laid down arms and helped aid efforts in the province, which was devastated by a massive earthquake and tsunami over two weeks ago.

"Up until now they are always saying that their armed activities are to help the welfare of the people of Aceh," Sutarto told reporters at a press conference following a briefing for international military officers at the military airport in Banda Aceh.

"After the tsunami, they need to change their arms for other means," he said. "They need to volunteer and do other activities.".

When asked if the military would not arrest GAM members who wanted to hand over their weapons, Sutarto said, "Yes, it means we will not arrest them ... For the time being, yes ... For now, we need to all work together."

He also said they have tried to contact the rebels, but "there has been no response up until now."

"It is up to them whether they will accept my offer or keep fighting," he said.

He also said that the rebel group appeared fractious, with some members saying they wanted to honor a ceasefire, which both sides allegedly agreed to after the disaster, and others saying they did not.

But he said there have only been a few incidents involving GAM members since the tsunami. One involved the kidnapping of medical personnel, but a military operation successfully released them, he said. The other allegedly involved the hijacking of an aid convoy.

"There have been a very, very small number [of incidents] that we can identify after the disaster," he said.

Sutarto said the TNI had joint roles to "conduct humanitarian assistance and conduct military oper-ations in Aceh towards armed struggle from GAM separatists," but said the focus would be on the former, according to a copy of the briefing for foreign military officers obtained by reporters.

The Indonesian military also appeared to be tightening control of international assistance coming into the country, with a new set of rules being passed out to foreign military officials, such as a requirement to have TNI "liason officers" in each military aircraft or ship working in the country.

Sutarto confirmed reports from aid workers that they were being asked to inform the military when traveling anywhere outside Banda Aceh, but denied that it would slow the progress of aid operations.

"GAM is still here and still armed," Sutarto said.

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