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Wahid trip to Aceh in doubt amid violence JAKARTA - A trip by President Abdurrahman Wahid to Aceh province was in doubt on Thursday after fighting at an ExxonMobil gas field, which has been closed for security reasons threatening Indonesia's gas exports. Wahid's planned visit to Meulaboh, South Aceh, next week "might be cancelled," his spokesman Wimar Witoelar told journalists. Sources at the presidential palace said the military had strongly objected to the planned visit.
More than 8,000 security forces have been deployed in Aceh, 2,000 of them at the ExxonMobil fields, three of which were shut down for security reasons on March 9. The armed clash erupted at Point A in the ExxonMobil field in the Tanah Luas sub-district of North Aceh on Wednesday. The gunfire started around 9:00 a.m. (0200 GMT) and lasted for several hours but there were no reports of casualties, the Banda Aceh-based Serambi daily said.
The paper said the exchange of fire at ExxonMobil was sparked by an attack on a convoy of troops from the elite Brimob police unit in nearby Sumbok Rayeuk. But local police chief Adjutant Senior Commissioner Wanto Sumardi said there were no gunfights between the two sides. He told the paper the first shots were fired after some 10 rebels staged a hit-and-run attack on a security post at Point A. Shots were then fired in the air to clear the disperse the people to carry out a sweep. "Maybe the sound of the shots made people think that there was an armed clash," Sumardi said.
On Thursday the area became a security zone and soldiers and police conducting a sweep shot two taxi drivers in Lhokseumawe town, killing one and seriously injuring another, a local journalist told AFP. Two rebels, in full army fatigues, were also killed after about 10 guerrillas ambushed a joint army-police patrol in Jaya sub-district, West Aceh on Thursday, local military commander, Lieutenant Colonel Bambang Prasetyo said.
The Free Aceh Movement has been fighting for a free Islamic state in Aceh since the mid-1970s. Energy and Natural Resources Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro said Thursday ExxonMobil would need seven days to restart production once it was agreed security conditions at their field and in Aceh were adequate. The halt in production is threatening Indonesia's exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Japan and South Korea, prompting Jakarta to send teams there to help arrange for alternative supplies, including from other countries.
The government will lose around 10 million dollars in revenues in March alone due to the ExxonMobil production halt, the president of state-owned oil and gas company Pertamina, Baihaki Hakim, said. Purnomo said Exxon and security authorities were trying to agree on what security conditions were needed before the company could resume operations. On Tuesday, two helicopters carrying Purnomo and his entourage during a tour of the ExxonMobil sites were shot at but there were no casualties.
Jakarta has said it plans to launch a "limited military operation" in Aceh to rid it of rebels which Defence Minister Muhammad Mahfud said Thursday could come at "any time." In further violence, gunshots rang out Wednesday in the Lhoksukon sub-district, some 37 kilometres east of Lhokseumawe, after a landmine blew up when a truck carrying troops rumbled over it, Serambi said. There were no casualties.
In Pidie district, rebels attacked the Ulim sub-district police with a grenade on Wednesday, injuring a child nearby, Pidie district police chief Adjutant Senior Commissioner Heru Budi Ersanto told Serambi. And Sumardi said a grenade was thrown into the sub-district police post in Lhoksukon but missed its target and no-one was injured.



Posted in Aceh conflict @ 24 March 2001 00:01 CET by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink






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