Indonesia: May 20, 2003


Another 500 troops were parachuted into the Takengon area in Central Aceh, in what was expected would become Indonesia's biggest military operation since it invaded East Timor in 1975. The armed forces launched their promised major offensive on the 19th, just hours after peace talks broke down during the disarmament phase and the president imposed martial law. The government has reinforced it's presence in the Aceh area, from 38,000 troops and police to more than 45,000 to 50,000 (depending on what source you believe). They are facing about 5,000 poorly armed rebels.

The offensive started with a "show of force". At least two U.S.-made Indonesian Air Force OV-10 Bronco attack aircraft fired rockets at an alleged weapons cache in a rebel stronghold near the airport about 12 miles east of the provincial capital of Banda Aceh, while six C-130 Hercules transport airdropped 458 soldiers over the same location. In the north, more than 600 marines along with ancient BTR-50 APCs landed from one of 15 warships off the coast, near the industrial town of Lhokseumawe. Five rebels were killed and seven others taken prisoner during the first day of the assault, although the rebels claimed that the dead and captured were all civilians. Four troops were wounded.

Talks with the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) broke down late on the 18th. The GAM had also used the ceasefire to add 2,140 recruits and 516 weapons to their rolls. 

Banda Aceh is about 1,600 kilometers northwest of the capital Jakarta. The martial law decree, which will last for six months but may be extended, appears to have had little effect so far. Exxon Mobil said its production was unaffected and had no plan to evacuate staff. The American oil company operates some of Indonesia's biggest natural gas fields in Aceh. - Adam Geibel




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