US urges political solution in Aceh
21 January 2005
The United States yesterday called for a political solution of the conflict in the Indonesian province of Aceh, with a top Pentagon official arguing that Indonesia's military should be "pushed to get out of the way" if it tries to sabotage attempts at a negotiated settlement.
But Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz also offered Indonesian generals a reward, suggesting what he described as a calibrated renewal of bilateral military co-operation suspended after the 1999 crisis in East Timor, if they co-operated.
"We have a chance to give some meaning to that tragedy by moving to a better future, including particularly trying to move towards a political resolution of that problem in Aceh," Mr Wolfowitz said in a television interview.
With a ceasefire in effect and international aid pouring in, Indonesian Foreign Minister Hasan Wirayuda earlier had raised the possibility of talks with Aceh separatist rebels. He said talks could begin as early as this month.
Mr Wolfowitz did not specifically comment on this development, but expressed strong support for political efforts to end the conflict - as well as resolute measures to check possible military obstructionism.
"If the military gets in the way of that, then the military should be pushed to get out of the way," he said.
"But if the military can be brought on board and the Acehnese people ... can see that their Government and maybe even their military is able to deliver something good to them instead of just oppression, I think there's a chance to move to a new era that would benefit the whole region."
Meanwhile, US forces are preparing to wind down tsunami relief efforts around the Indian Ocean, confident of leaving behind stronger military ties in the region, their commander said yesterday.
Admiral Thomas Fargo, chief of the US Pacific Command, said after a tour of tsunami-devastated areas that international aid was starting to focus on reconstruction and it was time to gradually reduce the military's aid role.
"We are pretty much past the immediate relief phase and we are rapidly moving toward what you would call rehabilitation and reconstruction," he said.
The US has sent more than 16,500 personnel to tsunami-stricken countries and deployed aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln as a base for relief flights into Aceh.
"We will start right now transferring functions to the appropriate host nation and international organisations," Admiral Fargo said.
He said there was no deadline for withdrawal but that 60 days from the tsunami was probably enough time to hand over to other groups - around late February - although operations such as ferrying supplies by helicopter were likely to be the last to go.
Admiral Fargo, whose command covers more than half the globe and includes 300,000 military personnel, said the unprecedented international relief operation, involving military teams from more than a dozen nations, showed the strength of military ties.
"This habit of co-operation has developed over many years," he said, noting that the US had joined international relief efforts in Bangladesh in 1991 when floods killed more than 138,000 people.