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Last Updated: Monday, 9 June, 2003, 21:20 GMT 22:20 UK
Aceh rebels at home in Stockholm
By Lars Bevanger
BBC correspondent in Stockholm

In a Stockholm suburb, a small group of men are having coffee and cakes in a modest living room.

But they are not here to exchange pleasantries. This is the revolutionary council of the Free Aceh Movement, or Gam.

The living room is the unlikely setting for the command centre of the rebel movement fighting the Indonesian military, 10,000 km (6,000 miles) away in Aceh.

Protests outside the Indonesian embassy in Stockholm
Pressure over Gam's presence has risen recently
Malik Mahmood is the group's leader. He's known as prime minister inside Gam. He has been fighting for an independent Aceh for 27 years.

He and his colleagues came here in the early 1980s as political refugees.

They say it was coincidence they ended up in Sweden, and today they are all Swedish citizens.

But since the latest round of fighting in Aceh started in May, the Indonesian Government has put pressure on Sweden to either extradite or prosecute them for crimes against the Indonesian state.

'Terrorist' activities

Now an Indonesian Government delegation has travelled to meet the Swedish foreign minister in Stockholm.

They say they carry evidence of terrorist activities on Swedish soil. Mr Mahmood says the visit from Jakarta does not worry him:

"Not at all. We have been fighting Indonesia for 27 years now. From the beginning we were accused with so many accusations - they called us rebels, separatists, bandits.

"At one time they called us communists. But now, since 11 September, they have another chance to label us terrorists", he said.

No-one here doubts Mr Mahmood and his colleagues are co-ordinating the campaign in Aceh.

The Swedish Government doesn't support or recognise Gam as an organisation, but refuses to prosecute them as long as they are not breaking Swedish law.

Government under pressure

Jakarta is unhappy with this position. There have been demonstrations outside the Swedish embassy, and Indonesian importers threaten to boycott Swedish products.

Analysts such as Staffan Sonning at Swedish Radio in Stockholm say the government feels the pressure.

"I know for a fact that they are very worried. The Indonesian Government finally has understood that it would be impossible under Swedish law to throw these guys out," he says.

Stockholm suburb of Alby
The rebels live in a Stockholm suburb

"So now they're sending a new delegation with intelligence officers, and policemen and former politicians, to try to present proof that they have committed crimes that would be considered also breaking the Swedish laws.

"And since it is intelligence officers that are coming, it's not unlikely they'll be bringing some sort of proof, perhaps of intercepted information."

There's little international support for Gam's independence claim. The United Nations recognises Aceh as part of Indonesia.

That was not the case with East Timor, which gained independence one year ago.

Human rights abuses

The main concern of the international community is the situation for Aceh's civilian population. Aid organisations have had to leave, and there are allegations of human rights abuses by Indonesian forces.

But there are also worries about Gam's human rights record, said Maja Åberg at Amnesty International in Stockholm.

"One concern is the use of child soldiers, recruiting young people - children - under the age of 18. Torture, harassment, extra-judicial executions, those are also concerns."

Gam leadership, from left: Sharif Usman, Malik Mahmood, Bakhtiar Abdullah, Zaini Abdullah.
The Gam revolutionary council

The Stockholm-based Gam leadership rejects such claims, but say they would be willing to let independent observers carry out investigations - if only Indonesia would let them.

They're keen to lay the responsibility for the breakdown in talks and the suffering of the Acehnese people on Jakarta.

Any move towards new talks, they say, must now come from the Indonesian President, Megawati Sukarnoputri. Mr Mahmood says Gam's position has not changed:

"I think the time will come that the Acehnese people will decide whether they want to be part of Indonesia or independent.

"But the problem with Indonesia is they never give that chance. For us, Gam, we will take whatever the decision of the people. We will obey."


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