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Govt: 23000 in Aceh Flee, rebel toll at 58 BANDA ACEH - Indonesia said on Friday 58 separatist rebels in Aceh province have been killed, and 23,000 civilians have fled their homes, since the military began its biggest offensive in years. An Indonesian military document, seen by reporters on Friday afternoon, listed 58 rebels killed, up from a figure of 38 given in the morning.
Aceh deputy governor Aswar Abubakar said that since Monday when the campaign began -- during which the military said rebels had melted into the civilian population -- thousands of civilians had fled their homes in Indonesia's westernmost province. "There have been 23,000 refugees. Some of them are in North Aceh, Bireun, West Aceh and a few in other places. They won't be evacuated to Banda Aceh," Abubakar told reporters.
"Some fear their areas will become operation areas." Aceh's military commander visited an island off the north Aceh coast on Friday to deliver humanitarian aid to an isolated community that has seen several clashes in recent days with entrenched Free Aceh Movement (GAM) forces. The military has pounded the island, a half-hour by boat from the provincial capital Banda Aceh, with rocket fire from helicopters and machinegun and cannon fire from patrol boats.
"We are trying to eliminate the rebels from the air, land and sea. We are trying to prevent them from escaping," Major General Endang Suwarya told reporters. Island resident Leila, who like many Indonesians uses one name, told Reuters the military campaign was frightening. "We are scared. Our economic life is very bad and we need aid." Jakarta declared martial law in Aceh and the military launched its biggest offensive since the 1975 invasion of East Timor following the collapse of last-ditch talks in Tokyo last Sunday aimed at saving a five-month-old peace pact.
GAM has held out for independence instead of the special autonomy Jakarta is offering for Aceh, whose four million people practise a stricter kind of Islam than in the rest of Indonesia. The province is rich in oil and gas. The United States, Japan and Europe have all urged a resumption of negotiations.

Battlefield claims

Battlefield claims could not be easily verified, but there were reports of disrupted transportation, hundreds of burned schools, and growing numbers of refugees and civilian casualties. Aceh military spokesman Firdaus Komarno told Reuters earlier on Friday that 38 rebels had been killed up to Thursday night. A rebel spokesman said no separatists have been killed, but that nearly 50 civilians had died in military operations.
The BBC quoted a witness in the village of Mata Mamplam in Bireun district who said troops had executed eight males aged 11 to 20. The report could not be independently confirmed. The military has denied killing non-combatants since the offensive began to end GAM's 27-year campaign for independence. The fighting was having a growing impact on transport.
"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. As the cost for Aceh's war-weary people from the offensive rises, Indonesia's health ministry is sending 740 doctors and about 5,000 nurses to help the displaced, reports said. Military spokesman Firdaus said clashes had been sporadic.
"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 been accused of human rights abuses during its earlier battles with GAM, charges it has generally denied. The military and other observers have accused the separatists of committing rights violations themselves.
The military has said anyone found guilty of offences against civilians would be severely punished. It has accused GAM of burning of hundreds of schools since the offensive began. Government commanders hope the campaign can be completed in six months. Jakarta 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 00:05 CET by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink






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