Sat, 06 Dec 2003

Military strikes rebel base with rockets

Nani Farida and Tengku Agam Muzakkir, The Jakarta Post, Banda Aceh/Lhokseumawe

After a six-month lapse, Air Force bombers led a major offensive against Free Aceh Movement (GAM) bases in Aceh Besar regency on Friday.

During an air assault lasting 20 minutes, two OV-10 Broncos fired at least 28 missiles to level seven huts located in a hilly forest, which was believed to harbor rebels. No fatalities were reported in the attack.

"We conducted a surveillance in the morning and found the huts belonging to GAM inside the forest. We only launched the assault around 3:30 p.m.," Aceh Besar Military Commander Lt. Col. Joko Warsito said.

It was the first bombardment of GAM positions using aircraft after around six months. The TNI deployed F-16 jet fighters in June to strike GAM bases in North Aceh. On the first day of the military operation on May 19, the military dispatched HS-Hawks to the province, raising objections from their producing country Britain.

Joko said the air surveillance easily detected the wooden huts as they were covered by stark blue tarpaulins.

"We saw clothes hanging on several parts of the huts, indicating the presence of human beings," Joko said. "I believe GAM deputy commander for Aceh Besar lived there."

He was convinced the rebels had celebrated the GAM anniversary on Thursday at the place, which is situated on Geunaleng mountain in Darul Kamal district.

Military troops scoured the site following the air assault, but found no bodies. The military expressed fear the rebels had mingled with residents.

The government troops also combed Cot Bak Krueng Siron, also in Aceh Besar, after giving chase to a group of rebels who wounded two Army Special Forces (Kopassus) soldiers during a gunfight on Thursday.

GAM lost one of its local leaders, Din Teungku Tok, who was killed along with his adjutant Teungku Mahdi in the latest armed clash on Friday.

"Due to the difficult terrain, we could not evacuate the bodies. We just buried them there," Joko said, adding that the troops seized a rocket propeller, a Colt pistol and two homemade pistols from Teungku Tok.

The TNI has had Mt. Siron under surveillance since December 2003, according to Joko. Government troops have since been involved in several skirmishes around the mountain.

Sporadic gunfights also took place across the natural resource-rich province on Friday.

In Blang Mangat area near Lhokseumawe, the military found an explosive weighing 25 kilograms and claimed it belonged to GAM.

Local residents said they discovered the bomb on Friday afternoon by accident.

First Lt. Ediyanto, the chief of the bomb squad, said the bomb had been meant to be detonated on Thursday. He added that the bomb was capable of destroying objects within a 150-meter radius.

"GAM failed to detonate the bomb after a group of residents discovered the plan and reported it to us," he said.

A resident said that locals ran after the suspected GAM members, who just left the bomb unattended.