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Wednesday, 24 November, 1999, 16:53 GMT
President rejects martial law in Aceh
The Indonesian army has withdrawn 600 soldiers from Aceh

Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid has ruled out a return of military rule to the northern province of Aceh.

"President Wahid rejects martial law," Attorney-General Marzuki Darusmani told a parliamentary committee on Wednesday.

Fragile Archipelago
The decision, supported by other civilian leaders, is likely to widen a split with the military, which wants martial law declared to control the growing separatist movement.

Military commanders said President Wahid's decision to scale down the army's presence in Aceh had reduced their ability to control unrest.

Many people blame the military's brutal tactics over the past decade for the rise of Aceh's pro-independence movement and the mass hatred of Jakarta, which has led to fears of the break-up of Indonesia.

The police will build up their presence in the province following the military's complaints, a police spokesman said.

Colonel Saleh Saaf told Reuters news agency that 876 reinforcements from the police mobile brigade, frequently used in riot control, would be despatched next week, around half to replace others being withdrawn.

The move comes ahead of the anniversary on 4 December of the founding of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM).

There are reports that the GAM flag will be flown "as a symbol of the determination of the Acehnese people", Indonesian Radio reported.

Thousands of non-Acehnese have already fled the province, worried they will get caught up in any violence.

No independence

President Wahid has offered the Acehnese a referendum, but it is expected to be for autonomy, not independence.

Aceh factfile
98% Muslim
Rich in oil and gas
Four million population
55,000 sq km
The president surprised many earlier this month when he first suggested that the province might be able to hold a vote on its ties with Jakarta.

During a recent official visit to Japan, he said he wanted to hold a vote within seven months.

A day later he appeared to rule out full independence in favour of greater autonomy for the Acehnese within the Indonesian state.

An estimated 2,000 people have been killed in the northern Sumatran province in the past 10 years.

Several top generals involved in the military operation there are to be summoned before parliament in the next few days, following allegations of human rights abuses.

Former military chief General Wiranto will appear on Thursday, and former Vice-President Try Sutrisno on Saturday. The parliament also plans to question officials of the rebel movement.

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See also:
04 Nov 99 |  Asia-Pacific
Wahid backs Aceh ballot
18 Nov 99 |  Asia-Pacific
President defends Aceh ballot idea
08 Nov 99 |  Asia-Pacific
In pictures: Acehnese on the streets
04 Nov 99 |  Asia-Pacific
Indonesia troops to leave Aceh
21 Aug 99 |  Asia-Pacific
Aid running out in Aceh
23 Aug 99 |  From Our Own Correspondent
Aceh: Still dreaming of freedom
The fragile archipelago
16 Nov 99 |  Asia-Pacific
Aceh vote 'in seven months'
17 Nov 99 |  Asia-Pacific
Thousands flee troubled Aceh

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