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Last Updated: Thursday, 20 January, 2005, 13:34 GMT
Indonesia says Aceh rebels killed
By Rachel Harvey
BBC News, Aceh

Free Aceh movement (GAM) rebels - Archive picture
Gam and the army had both pledged to observe a ceasefire
Indonesia's armed forces have killed 120 separatist rebels of the Free Aceh Movement (Gam) in the last two weeks, the army chief of staff has said.

General Ryamizard Ryacudu said troops were forced to take action because rebels were stealing aid meant for tsunami victims.

Security forces launched a major campaign against Gam in May 2003 after the collapse of a peace process.

But after the tsunami the two sides both claimed to have ceased operations.

The rebels said such claims by General Ryacudu was black propaganda.

"Why would we steal from our own people?" asked one rebel commander who was contacted by the BBC.
ACEH: KEY FACTS
Province on the north-western tip of Sumatra
Higher percentage of Muslims than other parts of Indonesia
Gam rebels have fought decades-long separatist campaign
Internationally-brokered peace deal brokered in Dec 02 but collapsed in May 03
Year-long military crackdown weakened Gam, but failed to capture senior members

There is no way of independently verifying the number of rebels the general says his men have killed.

But the figure seems high, given that there have been no reports of major battles since the earthquake and tsunami struck - only occasional skirmishes.

But General Ryacudu is known for his hardline views and the timing of his latest comments is significant.

On Wednesday, the Indonesian Foreign Ministry said it hoped it would be possible to arrange ceasefire talks with the rebels before the end of the month.

General Ryacudu appears to think such talk is premature.

As long as the rebels still carry weapons this problem will not end, he said. Peace can only be achieved if they give up their fight for independence.

After almost three decades of struggle, that seems highly unlikely.

The good news is that so far security concerns do not appear to be hindering the massive relief effort in Aceh. International aid agencies say they are getting help to where it is needed most.




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