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Last Updated: Saturday, 15 May, 2004, 17:06 GMT 18:06 UK
Aceh separatists free 22 hostages
Two Acehnese women walk past police
Martial law is being lifted after a year-long crackdown in Aceh
Separatist rebels in the Indonesian province of Aceh have handed over 22 hostages to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

The captives were among more than 200 people detained by the Free Aceh Movement during a military operation launched against them last year.

They were handed over to ICRC officials in a forest 60km (37 miles) west of the district capital Langsa.

Martial law is to be lifted in Aceh on Wednesday, a year after it was imposed.

The head of the Indonesian Red Cross, Marie Muhammad, confirmed the handover of the captives, saying: "This is the outcome of hard work by all sides."

Cameraman still held

The Free Aceh Movement (Gam) had said it would release all the detainees, some of whom they suspect of spying for the military.

But a prominent Indonesian cameraman, Ferry Santoro, held for nearly a year, was not among those freed on Saturday.

Mr Santoro and his journalist colleague Ersa Siregar, were captured last June along with the wives of two soldiers. Mr Siregar was killed in a shoot-out between the rebels and government troops in December, and the two women were rescued in January.

From 19 May, martial law in the province is to be downgraded to a state of civil emergency, according to a government spokesman.

But government troops will remain in the area, and the authorities will still have the power to impose curfews, house searches and indefinite detentions.

The crackdown against the separatists began when Jakarta abandoned an internationally sponsored peace process aimed at ending the conflict, which has been going on for 27 years.

The Indonesian military says it has killed about 2,000 members of Gam, and captured 3,000 others, since last May.

But human rights groups say most of the dead are innocent Acehnese civilians.

Precise information is difficult to obtain, as foreign media and non-governmental agencies are largely prevented from working in Aceh.


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