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Indonesia Deploying Troops to Troubled Aceh Province - 2003-05-09

The Indonesian government appears to be preparing for a military offensive in troubled Aceh Province, with the deployment of at least 6,000 troops to the region. A deadline for possible military action in Aceh is just days away.

Indonesian officials say more than 6,000 troops are due to arrive in Aceh province Tuesday, May 13, to participate in possible military action against separatist rebels there. The troops are on their way by ship from Indonesia's second city, Surabaya, on the island of Java, and are headed for Aceh, which is located on the northern tip of Sumatra. The scheduled arrival date is one day after a government-imposed deadline of May 12 for rebels of the Free Aceh Movement to return to the negotiating table. The deadline was announced last week by top security minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. He gave the rebels until that date to accept the government's offer of special autonomy for Aceh and to drop their long-running campaign for independence.

The government has offered a degree of autonomy to Aceh that other provinces do not enjoy. The offer is part of a peace agreement brokered by international monitors, and signed by both sides in December. But the rebels say they interpret special autonomy as just one step towards outright independence for Aceh. The government says it will not allow the province to break away. There were hopes the December agreement would bring an end to more than 25 years of civil war in the province. But in recent weeks the chances for peace have seemed to be crumbling, and there have been sporadic outbreaks of violence between rebels and government troops.

Local media report that President Megawati Sukarnoputri is likely to issue a special decree on Monday, authorizing the use of force against the rebels if they fail to accept the government's ultimatum.