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Military takes two rebel islands in Aceh province BANDA ACEH - Indonesia's military said Friday it captured two islands from separatist rebels in Aceh province, while thousands of refugees fled fighting elsewhere in the region. The military said in a statement that it had killed 58 guerrillas during the five-day offensive, up from the 38 it reported earlier Friday. The statement gave no more details, but clashes occurred in several parts of the province Friday, rebels and witnesses said. Rebels say 12 of their fighters have been killed, along with 53 civilians.
It wasn't possible to independently verify the claims of either side because international monitors fled the area ahead of the fighting. Jakarta launched the military campaign Monday against rebels in the oil- and gas-rich province after weekend peace talks in Tokyo in which rebels refused to lay down their weapons and give up their independence bid.
Operation commander Brig.-Gen. Bambang Darmono said guerrilla resistance collapsed on the islands of Nasi and Aceh, both close to the provincial capital Banda Aceh, after three days of military attacks. It was not clear if the rebels fled or went into hiding on the tiny and sparsely populated islands. "The islands are now under our control," Darmono said. "We will do whatever we can to win this campaign and wipe out the rebels."
Rights workers said almost 10,000 people have fled their homes in Aceh since the military launched an all-out offensive Monday after the peace talks, aimed at salvaging a cease-fire agreement, collapsed. "The number will go up sharply," said Juanda, a member of the local People's Crisis Center, who goes by a single name. "We haven't checked the remote villages yet."
The government says it has made preparations to temporarily house and feed the up to 100,000 refugees they expect as a result of the fighting. Aside from the 58 rebels killed, the military said it had captured 23 others, including two commanders. Two Indonesian soldiers have also been killed, it said. Also Friday, unidentified assailants hurled a grenade at a military post in Banda Aceh, injuring one soldier, witnesses said. It was the first time that hostilities had reached the city of 370,000 people since the offensive began.
Unidentified gunmen have torched at least 240 schools in the province. Both sides accuse the other of being behind the arson. The military, which has a long history of human rights abuses in Aceh and elsewhere in Indonesia, promised to avoid civilian casualties before the campaign began. But the first days of the operation have been marked by accusations by villagers and rebels that soldiers have killed dozens of civilians while hunting for the guerillas - a charge the military denies.
The respected English language daily The Jakarta Post wrote Friday in its editorial that "large flaws" were already appearing in the military campaign in Aceh, citing the failure to prevent the school attacks and media censorship by the military. The government has imposed martial law, giving the military sweeping powers to make arrests, limit reporting, impose curfews and curb travel in and out of the region.
Prices of food staples have doubled in some areas because of the dangers of travelling around the province. "We are scared to go and collect vegetables," said market trader Ainul Nurziah in Banda Aceh. "No one wants to go because they are afraid of the shooting."



Posted in Aceh conflict @ 23 May 2003 00:03 CET by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink






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