Indonesia is preparing to launch a limited military operation in the restive province of Aceh as part of a new approach to quash separatist rebels there, Defense Minister Mohammad Mahfud said Wednesday.
He said the shooting in Aceh on Tuesday of two army helicopters carrying a minister and his entourage showed that the separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM) wanted war with Jakarta.
"It is evident that GAM doesn't want a peaceful solution. We said the operation should soon be carried out and the president agreed," Mahfud said after a meeting between President Abdurrahman Wahid and his aides.
The GAM has denied responsibility for the helicopter incident, saying it would have been impossible for their members because the military had thrown a cordon around the area where the choppers were shot at.
"We will take a new approach in Aceh, it will be called a comprehensive approach," Mahfud added.
"One of the six points (contained in the approach) is the limited military operation."
He declined to elaborate further or say when the new approach would take effect.Attending the meeting at the home of Vice President Megawati Sukarnoputri were senior security minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, armed forces chief Admiral Widodo Adisucipto and his chiefs of staff, and the police chief.
Last week, the government announced a "limited security operation" involving more troop deployments to rid the province of GAM rebels, who have been fighting for a free Islamic state in Aceh since the mid-1970s.
Military officers, including the armed forces spokesman, have spoken about six companies of men -- about 600 soldiers -- readied for dispatch to Aceh.
The two army helicopters shot at were carrying Mining Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro and his entourage, who had taken off after inspecting a closed ExxonMobil gas field in North Aceh, a witness said.There were no casualties.
Yusgiantoro had been visiting ExxonMobil's Lhoksukon field, one of three where operations have been suspended since March 9 due to security fears.
Jakarta and rebels have been holding peace talks in Geneva since last year. They have signed a series of shaky truces but so far failed to stem violence which has left some 300 people dead this year.
The military pledged last week that the new operational status -- which will encompass all but two areas of Aceh -- will not be carried out with the same ferocity as a nine-year military operation that ended three years ago.
In that operation, some 5,000 people were killed and hundreds of others went missing. Others were tortured and wounded, rights actvists have said.—AFP.
©--Agence France Presse 2001.
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)