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Indonesia Inaugurates New Military Command in Aceh - 2002-02-05

Indonesia's military inaugurated a controversial new military command in the war-torn province of Aceh Tuesday despite criticism from human rights advocates that the move will lead to greater rights abuses in the province.

Army chief General Endriartono Sutarto officially inaugurated the new military command. The old Aceh command was disbanded in 1985, and military operations in the province were overseen from nearby Medan, in North Sumatra.

Harold Crouch, project director of the International Crisis Group, says the move probably is intended to give the military greater access to Aceh. "I suppose the military thinks it's more from an administrative point of view. [It's] more effective, more efficient to have a single command in Aceh," he said.

Human rights groups fear the new command will increase abuses against the civilian population in the province. The Indonesian army has long been blamed for committing serious rights abuses against the civilian population.

The government has been fighting the separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM) since 1976. International human rights groups also accuse GAM of abuses against civilians, but on a far smaller scale than the military.

Critics of the new military command say economics are behind the move. Under the new autonomy law, Aceh will receive a greater share of its rich natural gas and oil resources. Analysts say the military wants to maintain tighter control over the region so the money does not fall into the hands of GAM.

The latest round of peace talks between the government and GAM ended Sunday in Switzerland with both sides agreeing to continue the dialogue later.

GAM leaders say they are willing to discuss autonomy for the province, but will not drop their demand for independence.