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Troops to remain in Aceh despite return to civilian rule

Updated On: May 17, 2005

Jakarta – The one-year state of civil emergency in war-torn Aceh will be officially lifted on May 18. But whether the long-suffering Acehnese will finally enjoy a return to normalcy remains to be seen since the government plans to maintain a heavy military presence in the province to counter separatists. 

    Mr Widodo Adi Sucipto, Indonesia’s Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs, said returning Aceh to normal status is aimed at facilitating the reconstruction of the tsunami-hit province.  
    "Despite the return to civil order, the security operation will remain. In reality, GAM still exists. There must be efforts to ensure the reconstruction process can work," he said on May 12. 
    The Free Aceh Movement (GAM) has been fighting for independence for the resources-rich province since 1976. 
    During the civil emergency, the Aceh governor, as the supreme commander of both the military and police, has the authority to declare certain areas off-limits to outsiders, ban public gatherings and censor the press. 
    The lifting of the emergency status is part of the government's plan to settle the conflict in Aceh "permanently and comprehensively", Mr Widodo said. 
    The Indonesian government is bracing for a fourth - and hopefully decisive - round of informal talks with GAM representatives in Helsinki on May 26.  Both sides have agreed in principle on an extended autonomy for Aceh. 
    GAM senior political officer Mohammad Nur Djuli criticised the government's decision to maintain troops in Aceh. He said: “The policy to continue the security operations shows that the civilian government in Indonesia has no power to control its armed forces.” 
    The Indonesian military, TNI, which has long treated Aceh as its own lucrative fiefdom, is known to be less than enthusiastic about the peace talks. 
    In an editorial, The Jakarta Post said it is not enough for the government to lift the state of emergency in Aceh.  “It is pointless just to lift the emergency if the military remains the de facto power in the field…and if the military has an undisclosed and unaccounted budget to spend. 
    “But judging from past experience, and also from the statements emanating from the military, there is faint hope that the lifting of the emergency will bring any real improvement to the lives of the Acehnese or the return of the normalcy enjoyed by their fellow citizens in most other parts of the country.”  
    However, some Acehese residents welcomed the continued presence of Indonesian troops in the province, Bernama reported. A private sector worker, Azhari, told the Malaysian news agency that many GAM members continue to force people “to pay illegal taxes”.  He is worried that with the lifting of the state of emergency, GAM members “could move around more freely and cause more harm to ordinary people like us”.

* Reigning in the military (The Jakarta Post, May 16)

* Govt to lift state of emergency in Aceh (The Jakarta Post, May 14)

* Indonesia to lift state of civil emergency in Aceh (Bernama, May 13)