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Indonesian Military Offensive Seen Coming Against Aceh Rebels - 2003-05-07

The head of the Indonesian armed forces is telling troops to be ready for a possible military offensive in Aceh Province. A deadline for resumed peace negotiations is fast approaching.

The head of Indonesia's Armed Forces, General Endriartono Sutarto, says troops will go "all out" if an offensive is launched against rebels in Aceh Province.

Speaking before at least 2,000 troops in Indonesia's second city of Surabaya, the general says the military operation may be launched on May 12, the same day as the government's deadline for resuming peace talks with the Free Aceh Movement.

This is the second warning from the Indonesian government in two days. Tuesday, top security minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said the government had permission from the president to launch a "security operation" in Aceh province. He did not provide any details on what that would entail.

The historic peace accord signed last December by the government and rebels from the Free Aceh Movement has been near collapse for weeks. In part, that is because the two sides have different interpretations of the peace accord, which was mediated by international monitors.

By signing the December accord, the government says the rebels agreed to a special autonomy plan in Aceh, and should therefore drop their campaign for independence. The rebels say they still have the right to push for an independent state.

These differences prompted the government, two weeks ago, to withdraw from an emergency meeting aimed at resuming the peace process.

Now the government is asking the rebels to issue a new declaration stating they recognize that Aceh is a part of Indonesia.

The rebels have refused to do so. But so far, neither the government nor the rebels say they are abandoning the December peace agreement.

In the meantime, there are signs that Aceh's cease-fire may be unraveling. At least nine people have been reported killed in recent days in clashes between troops and rebels.