JAKARTA: Indonesia warned that it could launch a new military offensive in Aceh province within days after rebels ignored its deadline to disarm. However, international mediators said yesterday that a compromise was still possible.
More than 6,000 troops were preparing to enter the restive province and an army spokesman said they were “waiting for the green light.''
International negotiators, wanting to salvage a five-month-old peace agreement, said parallel talks with the government and the Free Aceh Movement were continuing here and Stockholm – where some key rebels live in exile – and Banda Aceh, which is Aceh's provincial capital.
Security Minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono predicted President Megawati Sukarnoputri would authorise a security operation this week.
“We plan to meet with Parliament on Thursday and explain how we think the Aceh problem should be solved,'' he said.
A Monday deadline for rebels to accept government demands to disarm and drop an independence bid passed without incident.
Even so, international peace monitors relocated to neighbouring Medan as a safety precaution. Negotiators said war could be avoided.
“It's a very small window here and it is closing quickly,'' said David Gorman, a negotiator with the Geneva-based Henry Dunant Centre, which brokered the Dec 9 peace agreement.
“But it's not dead yet. We're asking both sides to take a step back and look at what the agreement has achieved. Right now, everyone needs to cool down.''
The pact to end the 26-year civil war – which has killed nearly 12,000 people on the northern tip of Sumatra island has been near collapse in recent weeks.
The government has intensified its threats of a military offensive and talks have repeatedly been delayed.
Indonesia's army chief Gen Ryamirzard Ryacudu was in Banda Aceh yesterday to oversee the replacement of a local military chief with one from Jakarta. Ships with more than 6,000 troops docked yesterday at Bintan Island, near Singapore ahead of a possible offensive.
“We are ready. We are waiting for the green light,'' Aceh military spokesman, Lt Col Firdaus Komarno. “There has been no ambush, not even a peep from the rebels in the last two days.''
Rebels issued a statement last week calling on fighters to return to their bases and for civilians to stay away from work and other activities starting Monday. However, rebels yesterday said they were still prepared to talk. – Reuters