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Indonesia Under Fire for Military Crackdown on Aceh Separatists - 2003-07-24

Indonesia is coming under new criticism for its military crackdown on separatists in Aceh Province, just three months after the peace process collapsed. A multinational policy group says Jakarta has no clear objectives for the war, and risks inflaming independence ambitions.

The Brussels-based International Crisis Group says, three months into the military campaign to crush the armed separatist insurgency in Aceh, the government is failing in its aim to win the "hearts and minds" of the people.

The new report by the multinational independent crisis management group says the army is driving most Acehnese back to support the rebels from the Free Aceh Movement, known as GAM.

Indonesia declared martial law in Aceh in May, after the five-month cease-fire with the rebels collapsed. There were many reasons, but a large one was differences over what the government's special autonomy plan meant in terms of Aceh being able to seek future independence.

Since announcing the six-month military emergency, the International Crisis Group report says, the army has gone beyond trying to defeat the rebels, and is further alienating Acehnese, who were growing disenchanted with GAM.

The report condemns tactics such as arresting rebel sympathizers, forced oaths of loyalty, background checks on tens-of-thousands of provincial civil servants, and displacing villagers. Human-rights groups say that hundreds of people have been killed in the latest military campaign.

"I think that what all of these things are almost designed to do is to create more support for separatism, just as these military operations were supposed to be eradicating it," said Sidney Jones, head of the International Crisis Group office in Jakarta.

The report says the military action seems to have no definable objective, no criteria for success, and no exit strategy.

The International Crisis Group does not directly question the need or moral justification of the war, pointing out the rebels are guilty of targeted assassinations, kidnapping, and extortion - among other things.

But Ms. Jones says that the solution will depend on how the Indonesian government delivers respect, justice, and economic security for ordinary Acehnese.