Hundreds flee central Aceh, Indonesia's latest hotspot

News and Press Release
Originally published
Jakarta (dpa) - Hundreds of Indonesian civilians have fled central Aceh since the withdrawal of international peace monitoring teams from the district earlier this month, human rights activists and international peace monitors said on Monday.

About 300 of the refugees staged a protest Monday afternoon outside the Joint Security Council (JSC) in Banda Aceh, 1,750 kilometres northwest of Jakarta, saying they had been forced out of their homes in central Aceh by military-backed militia.

They called on the JSC - set up earlier this year to enforce a peace agreement between the Indonesian government and Aceh separatists - to return to central Aceh, to restore security to the district.

On Saturday a group of unidentified armed men reportedly attacked Burlintang village in central Aceh, killing two civilians who were burned to death when the assailants set fire to 12 cars and four motorcycles.

While Indonesian military and police authorities quickly blamed the weekend attack on the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), a separatist movement that has been fighting for Aceh's independence since 1976, other sources said that it was difficult to know exactly the situation in central Aceh ever since international peace keepers were run out of the area by a military-backed mob earlier this month.

''It's tough to know what's going on in central Aceh, because we no longer have our monitors there,'' said David Gorman, Aceh-based representative of the Henry Dunant Centre (HDC) that helped broker a peace pact between the government and GAM on December 9.

As part of the agreement the JSC - comprising of members of GAM, the Indonesian military and HDC - was set up to keep the peace and report on any ceasefire infringements.

JSC's office in Takengon, central Aceh, was attacked on March 3 by a well-organized mob that ransacked their building, injured two peace monitors and sent the team packing back to Banda Aceh, Aceh's capital.

Since the Takengon incident some 800 refugees have fled central Aceh, human rights activists said.

''The refugees are ethnic Acehnese,'' said Faisal Hadi, spokesman for the Coalition of Human Rights Non-Government Organizations in Aceh.

Hadi said the refugees first fled their homes in July 2001, after conflicts broke out between them and a militia comprised of Javanese migrants who had been armed by the Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI).

The refugees returned to central Aceh in recent months after the JSC had set up its office in Takengon.

''When the JSC left, they said they were terrorized by the militia again,'' said Hadi, who put up 30 of the refugees in his office over the weekend. ''They've come back to Banda Aceh to see if the authorities can solve their problems,'' he said in a telephone interview with Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.

The Swiss-backed HDC is expected to announce the results of an investigation into who was behind the Takengon attack on Thursday.

The attackers claimed that they were annoyed with the JSC because it had failed to protect them from extortion and kidnappings by GAM separatists.

HDC has asked the Indonesian government to provide adequate security for international peace monitoring teams to allow them to return to Takengon to continue their work. dpa sh pj

AP-NY-03-17-03 0336EST

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