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F-16 jets used against separatists JAKARTA - The Indonesian military has used two of its US-made F-16 jets as it stepped up its campaign against separatist forces in Aceh, although military officials yesterday denied reports they had bombed or fired on rebel hide-outs. Two other US-made aircraft, OV-10 Broncos, also were involved in the attacks, although air force spokesman Colonel Iskandar said he could not confirm reports they had fired 16 air-to-ground rockets in the operation.
The use of the F-16s for the first time in the four-week-old offensive came as a senior US senator asked President Megawati Soekarnoputri to help ensure the safety of an American freelance journalist who has been living for five weeks with rebel fighters of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM).
In a letter to Mrs Megawati, the chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Richard Lugar, said journalist William Nessen had told his staff he believed "he will likely be killed or arrested by your military officials" if he tried to leave the rebels.
The commander of the military operation in Aceh, Brigadier-General Bambang Darmono, spoke to Mr Nessen by phone on Saturday night, assuring him he would not be shot if he left the rebels. But he said he could not comply with Mr Nessen's request that, as a journalist, he not be detained or questioned when he left GAM forces and then tried to leave the country.
Senator Lugar did not address the issue of whether Mr Nessen should be questioned, asking only for his safe passage out of Aceh and Indonesia. A spokesman for Indonesia's Department of Foreign Affairs, Wahid Supriyadi, said the "TNI will guarantee his safety if he departs from his position, but it's possible he will be questioned".
Mr Nessen has travelled through numerous villages in Aceh with GAM members and witnessed several firefights with Indonesian soldiers. The military is keen to talk to him about what he knows. The police have arrested two alleged GAM supporters who they said were staying in Mr Nessen's Jakarta house while he was with GAM in Aceh.
Indonesian military officials played down their use of F-16 aircraft and said they had been been employed only to scare rebels with the "sonic boom" that comes from flying through the sound barrier.
But a military officer, Captain Mohamed Fajar, was quoted in several major newspapers as saying bombs had been dropped and three of 11 targets had been hit. But yesterday Colonel Iskander said these reports were wrong and there was "no way we would use a bomb because it would create huge damage". "Besides, F-16s are mainly for shooting targets in the air, it's not effective for targets on the ground," he said.



Posted in Aceh conflict @ 18 June 2003 00:02 CET by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink






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