Mon, 22 May 2000

Fighting unabated in troubled Aceh

BANDA ACEH, Aceh (JP): Hopes of an end to the conflict in Aceh are quickly fading as continued clashes over the weekend brought the number of dead to 15 since the signing of an accord between the government and the Free Aceh Movement on May 12.

On Saturday and Sunday Free Aceh Movement (GAM) rebels engaged in gun battles with police forces.

A Mobile Brigade (Brimob) policeman Pvt. Prayitno was killed on Saturday when armed men ambushed a police patrol just outside the town of Jantho in the Aceh Besar regency, 60 kilometers east of Banda Aceh, local police chief Lt. Col. Sayed Husaini said.

Gunfights between troops and rebels were also reported in the Selimun area of Jantho on Sunday, but no immediate casualties were reported.

Separatist rebels on Sunday claimed responsibility for the death of the policeman saying that it was a retaliatory attack over the deaths of eight "civilians" killed in a clash on Thursday.

"That was just a warning over the violation of the peace agreement," Ayah Muni, a GAM spokesman in Aceh Besar, said in a telephone interview.

Ayah was referring to the Joint Understanding for a Humanitarian Pause signed in Switzerland.

The accord is not due to officially come into effect till June 2.

Earlier on Thursday, eight alleged rebels were found dead following an overnight armed clash with police in the North Aceh village of Hagu Barat Laut, some two kilometers west of the regency's main town of Lhokseumawe.

North Aceh Police chief Lt. Col. Syafei Aksal claimed on Saturday that armed rebels ambushed a police unit with grenades on Wednesday at around 11 p.m.

The dead were most likely a result of the ensuing combat.

Witnesses claim that the eight dead were found in a house in the village, where the grenades were believed to have been tossed from.

In another incident on Saturday, soldiers shot dead a 30-year- old alleged rebel named Bustaman in Blang Baro village, Teunom, West Aceh, about 170 kilometers southeast of Banda Aceh, local military chief Lt. Col. Widhagdo said.

"Two military units were involved in a gunfight with rebels, and Bustaman was one of them," Widhagdo said.

Abu Tausi, a GAM spokesman for Teunom area, however claimed that Bustaman was only a civilian. "He was scared and fled the scene when soldiers shot at him," Abu said.

So far at least 399 people have died this year, of which 30 are soldiers or policemen.

Material losses have also been large. Some 300 school buildings have been burned down by unidentified gunmen in the past five months. (50/edt)