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Govt: 38 Aceh rebels killed BANDA ACEH - Indonesia's military said on Friday it had killed 38 rebels in Aceh province since a fresh offensive began, but added the campaign was tough and separatists were melting into the civilian population. With questions being raised over the plight of civilians, the BBC reported a witness alleging troops executed eight villagers.
The military has denied killing non-combatants since the offensive began on Monday to end the Muslim rebels' 27-year campaign for independence for Aceh, an oil- and gas-rich province on the northern tip of Sumatra island.
"Our latest number of killed separatists is 38, valid up until last night. Reports are still coming in, most of them from Bireun where fights are intensifying," Aceh military spokesman Firdaus Komarno told Reuters, referring to Bireun district on the north coast. He said 11 rebels had been captured.
On Thursday, the military had put the number of dead Free Aceh Movement (GAM) fighters at 16. A rebel spokesman has insisted no separatists have been killed while saying nearly 50 civilians have died in military operations, amid reports troops had executed villagers in one location. The BBC quoted a witness at the village of Mata Mamplam in Bireun district who alleged troops executed eight villagers, all males aged 11 to 20. They had been shot in the head, the witness said.
The fighting has hit transport in the province. "The roads are not closed but many vehicles are burned and passengers are afraid to go," driver Raja Tinayungan told Reuters at Banda Aceh's bus terminal. Only about five passenger vehicles had left the terminal on Friday when normally about 75 would have set off, he said. "We can only survive for 10 days," Tinayungan said.
The military launched its biggest offensive since the 1975 invasion of East Timor following the collapse of last-ditch talks in Tokyo aimed at a saving a five-month-old peace pact. The cost for Aceh's war-weary people from the offensive has grown, with 15,000 forced to flee their homes. One official has predicted the situation would get worse for the province's staunchly Muslim population of four million.
Indonesia's health ministry is sending 740 doctors and about 5,000 nurses to help the displaced, reports said.

Blending in

Military spokesman Firdaus said clashes had been sporadic. "I think they will follow the same pattern. Indeed we will face difficulties because they're blending with people, but we have expected this," he said. "We won't be emotional and wipe them out in a hurry. We will hold back whenever they use people as human shields."
Indonesia's army has often been accused of human rights abuses during GAM's battle for independence, charges it has generally denied while accusing the separatists of committing rights violations. The military has said anyone found guilty of offences against civilians would be severely punished, and has said GAM was behind the burning of hundreds of schools since the offensive began.
Government commanders have said they hope the campaign can be completed in six months. The government has 45,000 troops and police in Aceh against about 5,000 GAM fighters, but the rebels have historically taken full advantage of the rugged, jungle-clad terrain.



Posted in Aceh conflict @ 23 May 2003 00:02 CET by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink






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