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Friday, 10 August, 2001, 05:12 GMT 06:12 UK
Civilians shot dead in Aceh
Indonesia's new cabinet was sworn in on Friday
Indonesia's new cabinet was sworn in on Friday
Indonesian police have confirmed that 31 civilians have been shot dead in the northern Indonesian province of Aceh.

It was one of the worst single incidents in the long-running conflict in the province, where rebels are waging a separatist campaign.

The rate of killings is at its highest in 20 years, observers say, with more than 1,100 people killed so far this year.

The military and the rebels are blaming each other for the latest deaths, which happened at a palm oil plantation on Thursday.

A woman and a five-year-old child were among the dead.

Different stories

A police spokesman said workers at a the plantation had gathered to collect their wages when up to 20 gunmen approached and began firing at them.

Free Aceh Movement rebels
Separatists have been fighting since the mid-1970s
"It was the Free Aceh Movement who were cornered and opened fire indiscriminately," said army chief of staff General Endriartono Sutarto.

But a spokesman for the Free Aceh movement (GAM) said the military had carried out the attack in reprisal for an assault on a security post. A rebel commander said the civilians were lined up and shot.

Swearing-in ceremony

The details emerged as the new Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri inaugurated her cabinet on Friday.

She called on her new colleagues to put aside their differences and live up to the name of the "Cabinet of Cooperation" or "Gotong-Royong" cabinet

"It is not merely a name, it is the way of life of the Indonesian nation," she said.

She is a staunch nationalist and unlike her predecessor, Abdurrahman Wahid, who sought to negotiate with separatists, she is expected to take a no-compromise line.

President Megawati has already said that maintaining national integrity is her top priority.

No change in Aceh

A limited military operation to crush the Acehenese rebels has been underway for more than three months.

Immediately after the swearing-in ceremony, the new chief security minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono told our Jakarta correspondent the government's policy in Aceh would remain the same.

"I need time to study what is happening in Aceh," he said.

But he also said the authorities would seek to develop options to "strengthen dialogue and peace talks".

The BBC's Richard Galpin
"Both the police and the military are blaming separatist guerrillas from the Free Aceh Movement for the massacre"
Former Indonesian Minister for Autonomy Ryaas Rasyid
"Jakarta must take a more peaceful approach towards Aceh"
See also:

08 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
Megawati seeks to reassure markets
23 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
Indonesian military holds key to power
18 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
Violence spirals in troubled Aceh
30 Jan 01 | Asia-Pacific
Murder and rape in Aceh
10 Jan 01 | Asia-Pacific
New Aceh peace deal
14 Nov 00 | Asia-Pacific
Aceh calls for 'Timor-style' vote
13 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
Analysis: Indonesia's fragile archipelago
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