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Violence Continues in Indonesia's Aceh Province - 2002-10-02

Humanitarian workers in Indonesia's restive northern province of Aceh say at least six villagers were killed last week by Indonesian security forces in Pidie District. The deaths were not reported in the news media, like so many others during the decades of grinding war between separatist rebels and government forces.

An intense young man in his 20's is sitting in an office in Sigli, the administrative capital of this district of fishermen and farmers. His face is scratched and his arms are bruised. "Mohammed" stares straight ahead as he relives the attack on his village in the foothills outside town. "We were farming in the field when suddenly the military came into the village and attacked us, me and some friends," he said.

Mohammad and one friend escaped into the forest, but his friend was wounded and bleeding heavily. He says they stayed in the forest for two days with nothing to eat. Finally he left his friend and came to Sigli. He believes his friend is dead.

Village elder "Reza" says the soldiers were looking for rebels of the Free Aceh Movement, known as GAM. "The military came looking for rebels and when they didn't find them, they just attacked the village," Mr. Reza said. He says only a few dozen women remain in the village and more than a dozen are missing.

Such stories have become routine during decades of fighting in which an estimated 10 thousand people have been killed. Security officials rarely comment on such cases and declined to be interviewed for this report.

Human rights lawyer Afridal Darmi says human rights violations are rampant, despite the end four years ago of military emergency measures imposed to quell rebellion by the authoritarian government of former president Suharto. "It is a lot of cases of summary and extrajudicial killings. And there are a lot of cases of torture, a lot of cases of arbitrary arrest and detention and a lot of cases of involuntary or forced disappearance," he said.

Faridah Haryani is the local coordinator for RATA [Rehabilitation Action for Torture Victims in Aceh], a civic group that provides medication and counseling to hundreds of torture victims in Pidie District. Mrs. Faridah says many victims are traumatized by their ordeal and feel humiliated. "They have got to be introduced back to their environment and go through a lot of consulting and psychiatrists so they can rejoin their community again," she said.

A coordinator for the human rights coalition in Aceh, Faisal Hadi, says the rebels commit some of the abuses, particularly kidnapping and extortion, but the military is the biggest culprit. "From the accounts we receive from the people, we found that most of these abuses is the responsibility of the army," he said. Mr. Faisal, who spent a year in prison for his activities, says the situation is worse than under former president Suharto.

The government and the rebels have been in negotiations for nearly two years. They are due to meet in Geneva in October and mediators hope this meeting will bring a ceasefire accord. The negotiators announced an agreement last May in which the rebels agreed to consider a government proposal for special autonomy for Aceh although they did not abandon the goal of independence. However, since then, the violence has intensified which has brought even more government forces to the province.

For Faridah Haryani, who works with the victims, the negotiations between the GAM and the government are useless as long as the violence continues. "The government and GAM are not very serious about solving the problem. If they're serious, both sides should control their men," Mr. Faridah said.

Observers say the rebellion is supported by deep Acehnese resentment over government oppression. Human rights lawyer Afridel notes that only a few human rights cases in Aceh have ever been brought to trial. "The main problem is cyclical impunity. The military is still powerful enough and they use it to protect their members from being brought to human right court," he said.

After so many years of violence, a sense of hopelessness has evolved in Aceh. Residents say they do not know if they or their family members will be alive the next day. Most say they don't care about the politics. What they want most is peace.