GAM’s forces have grown post-tsunami: TNI chief

Tempo Interactive – May 12, 2005
Armed Forces chief General Endriartono Sutarto (Solo Pos)

Sunariah, Jakarta – TNI (armed forces) chief General Endriartono Sutarto has revealed that post-tsunami there has been an increase in the number of Free Aceh Movement (GAM) members. It is suspected that GAM prisoners who escaped have rejoined GAM’s forces.

 ”There has been a slight increase, in our recent evaluation, at the time of the tsunami many prisoners escaped and they have rejoined [GAM’s forces]”, said Sutarto before taking part in a cabinet meeting at the presidential offices on Thursday May 12.

In addition to the increase in GAM’s forces, Sutarto also admitted that the TNI lost many weapons when the tsunami destroyed a number of police barracks but explained that the weapons had already been recaptured by the TNI.

With regard to whether or not the state of civil emergency in Aceh would be extended, he said that GAM is still carrying out robberies, abductions and attacks. They are also collecting illegal taxes to purchase arms so the TNI still believes a need still exists to guarantee that GAM does not disrupt security.

The TNI itself continued Sutarto, doesn’t have a problem if the government extends or discontinues that state of civil emergency. However, “We must look at the reality [of the situation], on the ground GAM still exists”, he said. It is still felt that this is a problem, both for the public as well as the process of reconstruction and rehabilitation in Aceh.

“We don’t want the reconstruction and rehabilitation process to come to a standstill because there are security disturbances”, he said.

Before making a decision, the government plans to form a small team to study and give a recommendation to the president as to whether the state of civil emergency should be extended or not. With regard to this, Sutarto revealed that he does not know exactly what the tasks and membership of the team would be. “The Coordinating Minister of Political, Security and Legal Affairs will determine that”, he answered briefly.

[Translated by James Balowski.]