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Last Updated: Thursday, 6 November, 2003, 11:28 GMT
Martial law extended in Aceh
Villagers in Aceh carry the body of a dead Gam fighter
Hundreds of combatants and civilians have been killed already
The Indonesian government has extended martial law in the province of Aceh for a further six months.

Ministers admitted failing to meet an initial six month deadline for suppressing separatist rebels from the Free Aceh Movement (Gam).

"The military operation will continue," said security minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Hundreds of combatants and civilians have died since the crackdown was launched in May.

The decision to authorise an extension was made during a meeting between President Megawati Sukarnoputri and ministers and generals in Jakarta.

Mr Yudhoyono said the situation would now be slightly more flexible, with the operation evaluated monthly so that it could either be "extended or shortened".

The government seems determined to press ahead with its plan to crush the rebel movement
Rachel Harvey
BBC, Jakarta

Rebels who voluntarily surrender will be given amnesty, and a special economic recovery package for the province is planned, but no details have been given.

Human rights

Our correspondent in Jakarta, Rachel Harvey, said that these additional measures may be in part a response to critics who say that the government has failed to deliver on promised humanitarian assistance.

Earlier on Thursday, human rights groups called on the Indonesian government to end the offensive and resume talks with the rebels who want independence.

They have been fighting for a separate state since 1976.

In a joint statement, local and international organisations said: "Continued fighting will only result in increased civilian and military casualties, internal displacement, and widespread destruction of livelihoods and property."

But our correspondent says the government seems determined to press ahead and crush the rebel movement, even if it takes longer than military leaders predicted.

The campaign began on 19 May, after a five-month truce collapsed.

It is thought that the government has 45,000 troops and police, against an estimated 5,000 rebels.

The military claims it has killed or captured nearly 2,000 Gam rebels, and that around 60 police and military personnel have died, since the offensive began.

But with restricted media access in the province, independent information is difficult to obtain.

The military and human rights groups say 300 civilians have also been killed.


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