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Monday, 9 December, 2002, 13:44 GMT
Profile: Aceh's separatists
A soldier of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) rebels displays his rifle at a rebel-held village in Bireuen district, Aceh
Gam has always been outnumbered by the military
Aceh's freedom fighters have been battling for the province's independence for the last 26 years.

The Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka, or Gam) was founded on 4 December 1976 by Hasan di Tiro - a descendant of the last sultan of Aceh.

Rebel troops of Free Aceh Movement (GAM) ride on motorbikes in preparation for their 26th anniversary in Bireun, Aceh
Gam wants a share of Aceh's rich resources
It has grown from its initial membership of just 150 rebels, to a military strength of 2-3,000 today.

But it is still vastly outnumbered by the Indonesian security forces, who wield 20,000 troops and 8,000 police in the province.

Historical gripe

Gam has always maintained that, when territory governed by former colonial power the Netherlands was brought together to form the Republic of Indonesia in 1949, the Kingdom of Aceh should never have been incorporated as it never formally belonged to the Dutch.

Gam argues that the Acehnese were not consulted and the group has fought for a return of the province's sovereignty.

That struggle has been fuelled by the perception that the Indonesian government has not fairly shared the province's considerable natural resources with Aceh's citizens, and by reported abuses by the Indonesian military.

Vehicle for anger

According to one think tank, the International Crisis Group, Acehnese activists often argue that Gam wields so much support among the civilian population because it acts as a vehicle for the local's resentment against perceived injustices by the Indonesian administration.

But the Indonesian military is not the only side accused of rights abuses.

The ICG reported last year that Gam murdered 19 people in 2000 alone.

The group has been accused of practising extortion and intimidation against the local population and of brutally punishing those believed to be collaborating with the Indonesian security forces.

However the picture is complicated, ICG says, by reports that at least some of the abuses may be perpetrated by people masquerading as Gam members.

See also:

09 Dec 02 | Asia-Pacific
08 Dec 02 | Asia-Pacific
26 Nov 02 | Asia-Pacific
10 Jul 02 | Asia-Pacific
17 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
22 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
17 Jul 02 | Asia-Pacific
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