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Indonesia Extends Martial Law in Aceh - 2003-11-06

The Indonesian government is announcing it is extending martial law in its restive northern Aceh province for six months. Human rights groups are worried about violence inflicted on the province's civilians.

Indonesia has been battling to suppress a separatist revolt in Aceh for more than a quarter of a century, and the decision to extend martial law for six months seems to indicate that Jakarta still believes a military solution is possible.

Martial law was declared in May when a cease-fire deal negotiated by a Geneva-based organization broke down.

There is evidence civilians are bearing the brunt of the violence. Reliable numbers are difficult to establish, but human rights organizations estimate that more than 1,300 people have died since May. Some of the dead were members of the rebel Free Aceh Movement, known as GAM, but most were civilians. More than 12,000 people have died since the rebellion began.

Ibrahim Abdullah is an Aceh-born academic who has worked with negotiating teams to resolve the conflict. He says he does not believe that the military alone can bring peace.

"We should have other alternatives actually," he said. "We should go back to peaceful settlement, that is what we hope, most of the Acehnese would like that kind of solution. It is very difficult for the innocent Acehnese."

The Aceh insurrection is rooted in disputes over the distribution of the province's huge oil and mineral wealth. The rebels believe Jakarta is exploiting the resources and leaving the Acehnese to live in poverty.

International experts familiar with the conflict agree that giving the four million Acehnese just treatment and a slice of the wealth would go a long way to defusing the situation.

Observers say that the continued state of emergency is radicalizing a new generation of young Acehnese, and that its extension will do little to shorten the suffering of ordinary people.