Mon, 26 May 2003

69 dead after week of war in Aceh

The Jakarta Post, Lhokseumawe/Banda Aceh

The death toll continues to climb in the war against the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), with two rebels and one soldier killed on Sunday, bringing the total number of casualties to 69 since the campaign began last Monday.

In the provincial capital Banda Aceh, police authorities announced on Sunday they had arrested 17 people, including 12 student activists, for their alleged involvement in the separatist movement.

Meanwhile, military authorities said the Aceh administration would issue new ID cards for Acehnese to differentiate them with GAM rebels.

Soldiers patrolling Paranggui village in the GAM stronghold of Bireuen regency killed two GAM members as they attempted to flee on a motorcycle on Sunday.

Platoon commander Second Lt. R. Suprapto said the two rebels had been wanted so "we tried to stop them when we accidentally bumped into them".

"We fired warning shots but they continued to flee on their motorbike and started firing at us," Suprapto said.

Soldiers found two weapons, ammunition and a grenade on the two bodies, which were taken away by the Indonesian Red Cross in Bireuen.

Another clash between the Indonesian Military (TNI) and GAM rebels took place on Sunday when about 30 rebels ambushed a military convoy near Bayi in North Aceh.

At least two soldiers were injured in the battle, which lasted for about 30 minutes. The two soldiers -- identified as Pvt. Syamsuriadi, 25, and Pvt. Eprizon, 27 -- are being treated at the Army's hospital in Lhokseumawe.

A fierce two-hour gunfight took place in Sidomulyo village in Dewantara district, North Aceh, at about 9 a.m. on Sunday. One soldier, identified as Chief Pvt. Mursidi, was killed in the battle.

Mursidi died of a gunshot wound to the head, making him the third TNI casualty since the government launched its military operation to crush the GAM rebels, who have been fighting for independence for the resource-rich province since 1976. At least 10,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in Aceh since GAM began its fight for independence.

Mursidi's remains will be evacuated to Medan, North Sumatra, on Monday (today) and then flown to Surabaya, East Java.

Late Saturday night, an explosion took place near the Peusong traditional market, some 700 meters from the Military Operation Command in Lhokseumawe, barely two hours after a grenade was thrown into a police office in the town.

On Sunday morning, the Air Force continued its aerial bombing campaign near Simpang KKA in North Aceh.

The first bomb exploded above Nisam subdistrict at about 9:25 a.m., the second above Cot Garot village about 9:35 a.m. and the third at about 9:40 a.m. above Meunasah Keudeu village.

According to Aceh Operations Commander Brig. Gen. Bambang Darmono, the bombings were aimed at "giving shock therapy" to GAM rebels believed to be hiding among the locals.

In Banda Aceh, police said they arrested 12 students in a crackdown on separatist supporters.

Aceh Police spokesman Sayed Husainy said the 12 students from the State Institute for Religious Sciences were arrested late on Saturday along with five others.

Sayed also said that non-governmental organizations, "which claim to defend human rights", would be monitored.

Also on Sunday, a group of civilians hacked three rebels to death with machetes when they attempted to enter their village of Wim Pesam in Central Aceh, Col. Ditya Sudarsono, a military spokesman, said.

Ditya denied any military involvement in the killings. "The villagers did it on their own initiative to stop rebels from entering the area," he said.

Since the offensive was launched on Monday, a total of 69 people reportedly have been killed. These casualties consist of 65 rebels, three government soldiers and one policeman. The Indonesian Red Cross, however, has said that it has recovered between 70 and 80 corpses in the province.

Independent verification of these numbers is impossible because international monitors left the province after a peace agreement signed in December 2002 collapsed in mid-May.

More than 20,000 Acehnese have fled their homes, seeking refuge in mosques and schools.

Also on Sunday, a number of Cabinet ministers, including Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare Jusuf Kalla, visited the province to assess the humanitarian situation there.

Highlights of weeklong battle

Day 1: Four people were killed in two separate gunbattles between rebels and soldiers in South Aceh district and Aceh Besar district. Twelve school buildings were burned down in Bireun.

Day 2: One rebel was killed in North Aceh and 12 others were arrested, while 185 more school buildings were burned in Bireun, Pidie, Aceh Besar, Aceh Jaya, Aceh Tamiang and Banda Aceh.

Day 3: The military claimed to have killed nine rebels in Bireuen and Pidie, but rebels put the death toll at 13, including 10 civilians. Sixty-three more school buildings were burned down.

Day 4: The TNI claimed to have killed 30 rebels and arrested 21 others during bloody clashes in Aceh Besar, East Aceh and on Nasi Island. Eleven soldiers were injured in the fighting. Forty-four more school buildings were burned down, and several trucks carrying food supplies to Banda Aceh were attacked.

Day 5: The TNI claimed to have killed 58 rebels in attacks on GAM bases in Pidie and North Aceh. GAM claimed to have killed 43 soldiers and police officers, and accused the TNI of killing 53 civilians. Prices of basic commodities in the province began to rise.

Day 6: The TNI killed Tengku Hasan Muda, the GAM regional commander on Nasi Island. More than 100 school buildings were burned down in Pidie, Bireuen and North Aceh.

Day 7: The TNI claimed to have killed 65 rebels in clashes with GAM in North Aceh, Aceh Besar and Bireuen. Three soldiers and one police officer were reported killed in the clashes.