Wed, 09 Jul 2003

Aceh war endures bloodiest day, as 18 rebels killed

A'an Suryana and Nani Farida, The Jakarta Post, Banda Aceh/Lhokseumawe

Despite the military's recent claim of territorial control over Aceh, the war between the military and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) peaked on Tuesday when 18 rebels were killed and several more soldiers were injured in separate clashes.

The clashes occurred in Bireuen, North Aceh, East Aceh and South Aceh regencies, according to Aceh martial law administration spokesman Col. Ditya Soedarmono of the Navy.

Separately, spokesman for the military operation Lt. Col. Ahmad Yani Basuki said a total of 21 rebels were killed on Tuesday.

He said soldiers shot dead 10 rebels in two separate gunfights in Bireuen regency and 10 rebels in five separate areas in North Aceh and one in South Aceh.

According to military figures, 374 rebels have been killed since the operation was launched on May 19 while the government has lost 30 soldiers and eight police personnel.

The military has detained 296 rebels and GAM supporters while 386 others have voluntarily surrendered to the security authorities.

Nevertheless, two Army's Special Forces (Kopassus) soldiers were seriously injured in a powerful blast in Pidie regency on Tuesday. The bomb was detonated by rebels using remote control.

Kopassus soldiers then hunted down rebels hiding in the area.

"Fierce gunfights are still going on in Gemuruh and Cot Teunong villages. We need one week to take control of the two villages," Kopassus' Group II commandant Lt. Col. Ardiyansyah T. told The Jakarta Post by cellular phone.

His explanation contradicted the statement of Indonesian Military (TNI) chief Gen. Endriartono Sutarto who said recently that the military had gained total territorial control over Aceh.

Endriartono said the military offensive would likely last for a year, instead of six months as previously stated.

GAM has also made public their existence and fighting spirit through a number of Jakarta-based journalists who visited RCTI journalist Ersa Siregar and his team who have been held by GAM since he went missing a week ago.

The military has restricted the movement of foreign journalists in Aceh and is mulling restricting the movement of local journalists as well following the RCTI incident.

In fact, the military has blocked all entry points to the province to foreigners.

The Aceh martial law administration refused to allow the former representative of the Henry Dunant Centre in Aceh David Gorman and his wife to enter the province when they arrived at the Sultan Iskandar Muda Blang Bintang airport in Banda Aceh.

The immigration office in Medan, the capital of North Sumatra refused to issue a permit to enter Aceh for the mother of detained U.S. freelance journalist William Nessen, who is facing charges for immigration violations.

Nessen was covering the war from the GAM perspective.

Also on Tuesday, the military court continued the trial of three soldiers charged with raping four Acehnese women.

The trial on Tuesday heard the defense from the defendants' lawyer W. Okianto.

In his defense statement, lawyer Okianto demanded the judges of the military court exonerate the three defendants of all charges because the prosecutor's indictment had some technical flaws.

If convicted, the three soldiers will face a maximum of 12 years in jail.