Fri, 27 Jun 2003

20 bodies found in 2 graves in Aceh

Agencies, Jakarta

Soldiers have uncovered 20 bodies in two mass graves in central Aceh, police said on Thursday.

National Police spokesman Col. Zainuri Lubis said authorities were still examining the sites in the villages of Guci and Krueng Pase and had been told by villagers there may be as many as 300 bodies in the graves dating back to 1999.

"The local police are now searching for mass graves of the other 280 victims," Lubis said, adding that the 20 bodies were uncovered on Monday, AP reported.

On Wednesday the military said it had found a mass grave in West Aceh. The corpses of two people killed by GAM had been unearthed, the military said.

On June 11, the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) said it would investigate a report, received from its field representatives, of a mass grave in the Nisam area near Aceh's Bireuen district.

Meanwhile, military authorities in Aceh said on Thursday that government troops killed at least 14 members of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) in a single major gunfight on Tuesday night.

The death toll is one of the largest reported at a single time by the military which is in the second month of a campaign to crush the guerrilla force.

The gunfight, the biggest so far since the government launched an all-out military offensive against the rebels, took place at the Simpang Jaya village in Bireuen regency involving 48 marines and dozens of rebels.

After the clash, marines found the bodies of 14 GAM members, ammunition, guns, rifles and 10 motorcycles allegedly belonging to the separatist movement.

Troops had the area under surveillance before they launched an attack that led to a two-hour firefight.

During the armed contact, the marines spotted a woman and two children fleeing the scene. The woman is believed to be the wife of the GAM commander for Bateek Ilik region, Darwis Jenuib.

Seeing the woman and two children, the marines decided to stop the clash and let the rest of GAM members take refugee on the hillside.

The government launched on May 19 what it called an integrated operation, which included a military operation designed to crush the secessionist movement in the province. The military claims to have killed over 200 rebels and detained around 500 others.

In Hanoi, President Megawati Soekarnoputri said on Wednesday that the ongoing operation may be extended beyond six months to ensure the elimination of GAM.

Speaking to the Indonesian community in Hanoi, Megawati said the operation would be extended should the current campaign fail to bring about peace and order in the province.

"We did set a six-month period for the operation and we hope to end it as soon as possible. However, if necessary I will ask for the approval from the House of Representatives to extend it," Megawati was quoted by Antara as saying on Wednesday evening.