Mass troop concentration urged to stop Aceh strife

Slobodan Lekic, JAKARTA, Indonesia, AP

Indonesia’s security minister is recommending a massive increase in the number of troops deployed to war-torn Aceh province, where repeated military offensives have failed to crush a burgeoning separatist movement, officials said Tuesday.

However, officials said no final decision has been made on whether to dispatch the reinforcements.

Bambang Susilo Yudhoyono, a retired general and the government’s top security minister, has asked President Megawati Sukarnoputri to approve the deployment of an additional 8,000 troops to the province on the northern tip of Sumatra island, the head of Indonesia’s military told reporters.

Yudhoyono made the request after completing a weeklong tour of the province of four million people where guerrillas have been fighting for independence since 1976.

Military chief Gen. Endriartono Sutarto said Yudhoyono’s recommendation would have to be analyzed before it is approved.

“There should an explanation for the additional reinforcements,” he said. “Whether we increase, or decrease, will depend on the evaluation.”

Yudhoyono said a meeting of security officials about the situation in Aceh would be held Wednesday in his office.

The Indonesian military has about 20,000 soldiers in Aceh, backed up by about 8,000 paramilitary policemen. The guerrillas are said to number between 2,000 and 3,000.

At least 10,000 people have died in the war between government troops and the rebel Free Aceh Movement. Human rights groups have accused the army and police of using death squads, torture and massacring unarmed villagers in their efforts to wipe out the insurgency in the oil- and natural gas-rich province.

Simmering resentment over the impunity of security forces and what is seen as Jakarta’s theft of resources have bolstered the independence movement.

The Indonesian army has about 230,000 soldiers, but most are assigned to a territorial organization that parallels the structure and role of the civilian administration. Only about 70,000 troops — including the 40,000-strong strategic reserve — are said to be combat-ready.