Tue, 06 Mar 2001

Clashes in Aceh continue, claim 17 more lives

BANDA ACEH, Aceh (JP): The run-up to Monday's Islamic holy day of Idul Adha failed to abate the violence in Aceh as at least 17 people died in various incidents including clashes between security and rebel forces which raged during the weekend.

Three civilians were killed in the East Aceh town of Idi Rayeuk which Free Aceh Movement (GAM) rebels began to occupy at about 6 p.m. on Thursday.

Rebels retreated from the town some 14-hours later after security forces with heavy support which included armored vehicles and two helicopters, marched into the town.

"Rebels burnt eight houses in the police dormitory compound and set fire to Idi Rayeuk state penitentiary. Luckily the jail was empty," deputy spokesman of Cinta Meunasah operation Adj. Sr. Comr. Yatim Suyatmo told The Jakarta Post by phone from Banda Aceh on Monday.

While Monday itself was generally calm throughout Aceh, volleys of gunfire were heard to ring out through Saturday night in Idi Rayeuk, some 80 kilometers east of regency capital Langsa.

Yatim said security troops were now pursuing GAM rebels who had torched the police dormitory.

GAM's spokesman for East Aceh, Ishak Daud, however said that rebels were compelled to occupy the town as security forces maintained their "sweeping operations in many villages which led to arson and violence."

"We will continue launching attacks if the troops maintain their action," Ishak said.

He admitted that his forces were responsible for the arson at the police dormitory and the penitentiary.

A sweeping operation by security forces of the town on Saturday afternoon discovered three more bodies.

Many residents of Idi Rayeuk had fled their homes during the occupation and took refuge in several mosques in the town fearing their homes would be torched.

When they occupied the town rebels hoisted GAM flags along a four-kilometer route in Idi Rayeuk. These were immediately stripped down when security forces marched in.

Meanwhile, four male bodies bearing head wounds were found on Saturday in separate locations around Langsa. The hands of the corpses had been bound when they were found.

"Only one of the dead has been identified. His name was M. Daud, 25, a local from Seurigit village in West Langsa," officer Yatim said.

Another three bodies were found near the provincial capital of Banda Aceh.

One was a man with what was believed to be torture marks while the other two, found in a different location, were of a man and a woman with severe head injuries.

In North Aceh, a suspected GAM rebel identified as Muhammad Usuf Majid, 25, was shot dead on Saturday during a gunfight between rebels and a joint police and military patrol in Keureusek village, North Aceh Police Chief Sr. Adj. Comr. Wanto Sumardi said.

Meanwhile in Bireun regency, three bodies were found with their throats slit. Two of the bodies were of a father and child. In South Aceh security forces raided a homemade weapons factory belonging to the rebels, seizing five homemade guns and weapon- making machinery, Teuku Umar Military commander Col. Syarifuddin Tippe told media on Saturday.

There were no casualties reported in the raid, he added.

The latest outbreak of violence comes after a second meeting on Thursday between field commanders from both sides in the capital, Banda Aceh.

More than 200 people have been killed this year alone, on top of some 1,000 last year. (edt/50)