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Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 November, 2003, 16:14 GMT
Rights abuses dog Aceh rule
Villagers in Aceh carry the body of a dead Gam fighter
Hundreds of combatants and civilians have been killed
The Indonesian Government has formally extended martial law in the province of Aceh as allegations continue of human rights abuses by the armed forces.

The military has been given a further six months to crush separatist rebels.

A ban on independent media under military rule makes it difficult to verify what is happening.

But in recent testimonies gathered by Scottish researcher Lesley McCulloch, Aceh villagers speak of brutality by the armed forces.

The Indonesian ambassador to the UK, Juwono Sudharsono, admitted the military and police's record was not spotless, in an interview with the BBC.

They took him to the fields just behind our house and we could hear him shout in terror 'god have mercy - I am not Gam (Free Aceh Movement)!'
Rusli, 13

"I acknowledge that in some aspects our police and our military may have been out of control," he told the World Service programme East Asia Today.

But he said that the Free Aceh Movement (Gam) traded on the "chequered past" of the Indonesian armed forces and the "romanticism of liberation" to establish itself as "a protection racket, using liberation and human rights to protect their own interests in the field".

Activists say rights abuses by both the military and Gam are widespread.

Testimony by a 13-year-old called Rusli in South Aceh, gathered by Ms McCulloch this month, said his father was killed by the military, apparently because they thought he was a member of Gam.

"They took him to the fields just behind our house and we could hear him shout in terror: 'God have mercy - I am not Gam!'", Rusli told an Acehnese activist who emailed the story to Ms McCulloch.

Indonesia's military said on Wednesday that it had so far neutralised 60% of the Free Aceh Movement (Gam), originally estimated at a force of 5,000. It hopes to completely neutralise the group's threat in the next six months.

But Mr Sudharsono admitted there was a risk that that would not be sufficient time, "because on the field, on the ground, there will always be the occasional misuse of power by some of the police and the military and that works against us".

Human rights groups have called on the Indonesian Government to end the offensive and resume talks with the rebels who want independence.

The military says that more than 1,100 guerrillas have been killed, and more than 2,000 rebels or their supporters have been arrested or have surrendered

It says that 395 civilians have also died. The military and Gam blame each other for those fatalities.

'Flexible' conditions

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

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

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.

Gam has been fighting for a separate state since 1976.

The military campaign began after a five-month truce with the rebels collapsed.

Indonesia's ambassador to the UK
"There will always be the occasional misuse of power"


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