Indonesia Prepares to Send Troops to Aceh

The Indonesian Government has sent 3,000 marines aboard seven navy vessels to the province Aceh in preparation for trouble if the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) does not accept Jakarta's May 12 deadline to lay down arms and accept special autonomy. The troops set sail for oil and gas-rich Aceh on the northern tip of Sumatra island from the East Java city of Surabaya, where Indonesia's military chief told troops to brace for war.

"If they are sending more troops we have to defend (ourselves)," Zaini Abdullah, a key GAM negotiator in previous peace talks, said in a statement. Abdullah said he did not expect to return to the negotiation table before May 12. He said GAM does not want to have a peaceful dialogue with force….Our aim for getting independence is still there. But he said the door was open for continued peace talks after the deadline on Monday.

Representatives of the Swiss Henri Dunant Centre as well as retired U.S. general Anthony Zinni who have both mediated in the crises earlier would be meeting GAM figures in Sweden this weekend. General Endriartono Sutarto said on Thursday there would be no half measures in any attack if GAM rebels refuse to lay down their arms in the province. "If then the government decides to solve Aceh through a military operation, then, yes, we need to be all out because it will be the last way for the government to solve problems in Aceh. We cannot be fifty-fifty," Sutarto said.

Any full-scale attack on GAM would effectively end a December peace deal aimed at halting a decades-long conflict that has killed at least 10,000 people, most of them civilians. Jakarta has been seeking immediate peace talks inside Indonesia with GAM after a dispute over timing last month led to a meeting in Geneva being cancelled at the last minute.

Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda said there was still time for GAM to accept Jakarta's terms for peace talks. "May 12 is still ahead. Thus, at this second, I would not say that resolution has failed," Wirajuda said.

Chief security minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said the government would consult parliament about what it planned to do in Aceh after the May 12 deadline had passed. In a statement issued on Thursday, GAM military spokesman Sofyan Daud said all GAM troops had been ordered "to report as soon as possible to their posts". It also warned major companies operating in Aceh, including ExxonMobil, that they were considered military targets and should halt activities within 24 hours after "the Indonesian government announces its war". In November of last year three ExxonMobil workers were abducted by GAM separatist rebels. The workers were freed, unharmed, shortly after their abduction. ExxonMobil has a total of more than 3,000 employees and contract workers in its Aceh operations, including the onshore Arun, Pase, Lhoksukon, and the North Sumatra Offshore gas field.

Fresh conflict in Aceh would be a setback for Jakarta as it struggles to lure investors following October's Bali bombings blamed on Islamic militants and years of economic turmoil.