Indonesia launches air and sea offensive against rebels

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The Independent Online

Indonesian troops launched a major offensive against separatist rebels in Aceh province just hours after the breakdown of peace talks in Tokyo and the imposition of martial law.

Indonesian troops launched a major offensive against separatist rebels in Aceh province just hours after the breakdown of peace talks in Tokyo and the imposition of martial law.

More than 1,000 elite soldiers landed in the province by sea and air in an operation to "destroy" the Acehnese rebels in what was expected to be Indonesia's biggest military operation since its invasion of East Timor in 1975.

The talks in Tokyo broke down when the rebels rejected Jakarta's demands to lay down their weapons, drop their independence bid and accept regional autonomy. The rebels vowed to resist any attack by the military and to fight on for independence.

President Megawati Sukarnoputri signed a decree last night authorising war in the oil and gas rich province and imposing martial law. It gave the military sweeping powers to make arrests, impose curfews and curb travel. The military immediately arrested five senior rebels.

Today, Indonesian planes fired rockets at a rebel stronghold about 12 miles from the provincial capital of Banda Aceh, said Major General Erwin Sujono, "the offensive has begun."

Earlier Monday, hundreds of troops parachuted into the province in a show of force. Six C–130 Hercules transport aircraft released 458 soldiers over an airstrip near Banda Aceh.

In the north of the province, more than 600 marines landed from one of 15 warships off the region's northern coast, an area with a heavy concentration of rebels.

By late afternoon, there had been no rebel casualties reported and troops were meeting minimal resistance. One Indonesian marine was killed in an accident while landing on a beach in bad weather, he said.

Indonesian military Chief General Endriartono Sutarto said: "I have ordered soldiers to hunt for those (rebels) who refuse to surrender ... hunt for them and destroy them to their roots."

There are more than 30,000 government troops in Aceh, up against about 5,000 poorly–armed rebels.

The attack signalled a return to military confrontation following a peace agreementlast December between the government and the Free Aceh Movement that raised hopes for a breakthrough in one of Asia's longest running separatist conflicts.

The accord unravelled in recent months following violence by both sides and mutual recriminations.

More than 12,000 people have died in fighting since 1976 in the province, province 1,200 miles north–west of Jakarta, amid accusations of atrocities on both sides.



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