Indonesia

Indonesia: 'Nearly 1,160 Aceh rebels killed in 10 months'

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Laksamana.Net - The Indonesian Defense Forces (TNI) says it has killed 1,159 separatist rebels in Aceh province over the past 10 months as part of an ongoing operation to eliminate the outlawed Free Aceh Movement (GAM).
Another 672 rebels were arrested and 696 others surrendered over the same period, state news agency Antara reported Wednesday (18/8/04), quoting a statement released by TNI headquarters.

The statement said troops also seized 753 guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition from the rebels over the same period.

In a rare acknowledgement of civilian casualties, TNI said 147 civilians were killed and 155 wounded during the past 10 months. The report did not say whether soldiers or rebels had killed them.

Up to 34 soldiers died in combat, 26 others died of disease and accidents, and 175 were injured, while two police were killed and 15 injured over the period, said the statement.

TNI commander General Endriartono Sutarto, who visited Aceh on Wednesday, said GAM's strength has been reduced to 30% since the military on May 19, 2003, launched its campaign to crush the rebel movement.

That's the exact same figure he gave on May 5, 2004. Yet since then almost 300 alleged rebels have been killed and at least 200 more have surrendered or been arrested, which means that either the military's data is wrong or that GAM is managing to recruit new members.

Inspecting troops in the Aloe Gintung area of Aceh Besar district, Sutarto urged them to maintain their fighting spirit, hunt down the remaining rebels and protect the public.

He emphasized that rebels have no international support, pointing out that Sweden is taking legal action against three rebel leaders living in exile in Stockholm.

Sutarto said that despite the rebels' declining numbers, they had been active over recent days, especially on Indonesia's August 17 Independence Day, to show the public they are still present.

He said GAM was responsible for a series of explosions in the province that left at least seven people injured on Independence Day.

"They want to continue to exist, but of course we have been ordered to resolve the Aceh problem, so there have been more armed clashes," he was quoted as saying by detikcom online news portal.

The military says it most recently killed 10 GAM members in several clashes across the province on Sunday.

Sutarto said he could not confirm reports that troops had earlier this month attacked and wounded three senior rebels: GAM military commander Muzakkir Manaf, South Aceh rebel chief Abrar Muda, and Bireuen district rebel chief Darwis Djeunieb.

Djeunieb last week told Agence France-Presse by telephone that he was amused by the reports because he is in good health.

Sutarto said the information that the three were shot and wounded had come from members of the public. "They had seen litter and assumed it was from the wounds of the senior GAM figures, but we cannot yet confirm this," he said.

"Therefore I have told the soldiers the hunt must be continued. If there are 10 GAM members don't shoot just two or three. If there are 10 people, then all 10 must be taken," he added.

When launching the operation to crush the rebels last year, TNI estimated GAM's strength at 5,251 personnel.

Since then more than 2,200 alleged rebels have been killed, while about 3,600 have surrendered or been arrested, according to military data. That amounts to 5,800 GAM members taken out of action, well above TNI's initial estimate.

Human rights activists say many of those killed in the resource-rich province, located in northern Sumatra, were civilians.

Megawati to Visit

President Megawati Sukarnoputri, who is seeking re-election next month, is scheduled to make a rare visit to Aceh on Thursday.

"We have prepared more than 2,000 soldiers and policemen to secure the visit of the head of state so security is not a problem," Aceh Military commander Major General Endang Suwarya was quoted as saying by AFP.

Megawati will spend just three hours in the province, visiting the provincial capital Banda Aceh and the town of Jantho. She will open a cultural festival, inspect troops and inaugurate a park.

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