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Last Updated: Saturday, 24 May, 2003, 14:58 GMT 15:58 UK
Probe into Aceh 'killings'
Refugees with armed soldier
Villagers complain of intimidation tactics by Indonesian troops

The Indonesian authorities say they are investigating claims that soldiers have killed civilians in their offensive against separatist rebels in the Indonesian province of Aceh.

People have reported beatings and shootings by government troops who are moving from village to village hunting for members of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM).

Indonesian Red Cross officials say they have found 80 corpses since the military offensive began six days ago - although it is not known if they are civilians or fighters.

It also says food is running out in parts of the province - echoing the United Nations warning of a looming humanitarian crisis.

An Indonesian army spokesman reportedly said an inquiry into the conduct of its troops would be carried out by two soldiers and two journalists from the Indonesian publication Tempo.

He said the probe had been sparked by media reports of the killings, and the military justice system would be used against any wrong-doers.

ACEH PROVINCE
An Acehnese woman in front of a burning primary school
Located on the northern tip of Sumatra island
Population of 4.3m people
Rich fuel resources, including oil and natural gas
Home to conservative Islam - last year, Sharia law was introduced
Gam rebels are fighting for an independent state

It comes as villagers described to the BBC how Indonesian troops were arriving in their communities, beating and firing on people. One village head said all the young men had fled.

One woman said she had not heard from her brothers for days, and another man described how he was woken in the night by armed soldiers and questioned about the rebels. "But I'm not a rebel," he said. "I don't know anything."

The BBC's Rachel Harvey was told 11 people were killed by Indonesian troops in one village alone.

The Indonesian Red Cross (PMI) has evacuated around 80 bodies from areas where there had been fighting since Monday.

Marie Muhammad, head of the PMI, said it is difficult to identify if those who died had been involved in combat or were innocent victims.

Night raids

Villages in parts of northern Aceh have been reporting that homes are being raided at night by unidentified armed men.

The men are said to be confiscating identity documents, without which civilians cannot safely move about.

One woman explained how they took all her family's identity papers, and those of her neighbours. "If I ask people, they say they are GAM - but I don't know if they are or not," she told the BBC.

The authorities have ordered all civilians in the embattled province to get new identification cards, in a move aimed at stopping rebels blending in with the population.

They also say the new identity cards - with signatures from local police and the local military - will help restore normality as people are currently too fearful to travel in the region for fear of being shot.

An unconscious Tengku Hasan Muda being taken to a military hospital by Indonesian troops
Indonesian troops captured this man who they say is a rebel commander
The Indonesian Government has insisted it wants to avoid civilian casualties, and has also deployed troops to guard roads so trucks bringing much-needed supplies can get through.

The UN children's fund, Unicef, is also flying out 20 tonnes of basic health equipment on Sunday - enough to meet the needs of 200,000 people for three months.

It fears as many as 300,000 people could be displaced within three months.

The organisation is also concerned that 60,000 children are being deprived of an education following the burning and destruction of more than 280 schools, which separatist militants and government forces have blamed on each other.

New offensive

The government says its forces have killed 58 rebels, and are currently celebrating the capture of an alleged rebel commander, Tengku Hasan Muda, after taking the tiny guerrilla-held island of Nasi.

Rebels say 12 of their fighters have been killed, along with 53 civilians - but it is difficult to verify the death toll figures of either side.

The new military offensive began after the collapse of peace talks, ending a five-month-old ceasefire that had raised hopes of a permanent resolution to the 26-year conflict.

The failed peace deal offered Aceh an autonomous government by 2004, which would have been allowed to keep 70% of the revenue generated from the province's rich oil reserves.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Rachel Harvey
"Across the province, checkpoints have been stepped up"



SEE ALSO:
Youths 'massacred' in Aceh village
23 May 03  |  Asia-Pacific
In pictures: Caught up in Aceh's conflict
23 May 03  |  Photo Gallery
Indonesian press back Aceh operation
23 May 03  |  Asia-Pacific
Eyewitness: Aceh's schools burn
20 May 03  |  Asia-Pacific
Aceh fighting concerns regional media
21 May 03  |  Asia-Pacific
Aceh: Why it all went wrong
19 May 03  |  Asia-Pacific
In-depth: Indonesia flashpoints
19 May 03  |  Asia-Pacific
Profile: Aceh's separatists
19 May 03  |  Asia-Pacific


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