Mon, 20 Nov 2000

Thousands flee their homes in troubled Aceh

BANDA ACEH, Aceh (JP): Some 2,000 villagers from Indrapuri district, Aceh Besar regency fled their homes to seek shelter in Banda Aceh on Saturday fearing renewed clashes between Free Aceh Movement (GAM) separatists and security forces.

"We decided to abandon our houses in anticipation of fresh gunfights because we learned that security personnel had launched an operation to find the GAM base in Indrapura district," a resident who refused to be named said on Sunday.

The residents left their villages some 30 kilometers east of Banda Aceh and set up tents at Teuku Cik Di Tiro building and at the Provincial Council compound here.

However, the spokesman for Police Special Operation Cinta Meunasah Sr. Supt. Kusbini Imbar said GAM rebels had forced local residents to evacuate their villages.

Police launched a special operation in the area on Friday to locate GAM's base in the district and find 14 district leaders, two legislators, Aceh Besar regent Sayuthi Ismail and a staff member whom they claimed were kidnapped by rebels on Tuesday.

GAM's armed wing commander in Aceh Besar, Ayah Muni, on Saturday evening countered the allegations saying that villagers were terrified of the police sweeping operations in the area.

Ayah Muni acknowledged that the officials had been at the GAM base in the area, but maintained that they were not kidnaped but were "invited" there to discuss the situation ravaging the province.

"They were there as guests, representing Acehnese and not as administration officials. They are all fine and returned home on Friday," he assured.

GAM claimed that Indonesian security forces had violated the Humanitarian Pause with its sweeping operation to find the GAM base in Aceh Besar.

Kusbini pointed out that GAM continued its terrorist attacks by torching the Syiah Kuala district office in Banda Aceh on Saturday evening.

No casualties were reported.

"The rebels want to paralyze the activities of the Aceh administration," he said.

Kusbini accused the rebels of intensifying attacks against security personnel by planting booby traps along Jl. Raya Banda Aceh-Medan, in Indrapuri and Seulimuem area.

"No fatalities were reported because the explosions did not damage the security vehicles," he added.

Clashes also continued elsewhere in Aceh.

Cinta Meunasah deputy spokesman Supt. Yatim Suyatmo said a rebel, identified as Tajuddin Ambia, was killed in a gunfight between Army soldiers and GAM rebels in Keutu Linteung, Seunagan district, West Aceh on Saturday.

"Five other rebels managed to get away," he said,.

Yatim also said residents found two unidentified bodies on Saturday, bearing gunshot wounds on Tamian river bridge, Kuala Simpang district, East Aceh. (50/lup)