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Indonesia: Aceh Rebels Commemorate Founding

Separatist rebels in Indonesia's northern province of Aceh are commemorating the 27th anniversary of the founding of the Free Aceh Movement. The rebels are under heavy pressure from the Indonesian military and have little to celebrate.

Ceremonies to mark the anniversary of the creation of the Free Aceh Movement, known as GAM, were muted Thursday. Aceh province has been under martial law since May and the army has threatened to shoot any groups trying to mark the anniversary.

The army pulled down a number of Free Aceh flags that had been raised to mark the day, and two soldiers were reported wounded in a clash with independence supporters.

Human rights organizations estimate that 13,000 people have been killed since the conflict began in 1976. The vast majority have been civilians.

"I think the biggest loser obviously is the population, which is caught between the two sides," says Kirsten Schulze, a political historian who is writing a book about Aceh. "I think the majority of the Acehnese are really not that concerned with issues of high politics and sovereignty, they are much more concerned with everyday issues. '

Both sides in the conflict are claiming success. GAM cites the failure of the army to defeat its fighters as proof of its success. The army says it has killed more than a thousand GAM members since May and captured or accepted the surrender of more than two thousand others.

The separatist movement originally sprang from a feeling that the Indonesian government was taking huge profits from the province's oil and gas wealth while putting nothing back.

The anger against Jakarta has been fueled by the brutal anti-insurgency methods employed by the security forces. The last attempt to negotiate peace broke down in May, and today there is little sign of willingness by either side to try to solve their differences by negotiation.

The Indonesian government is confronted with insurgencies or sectarian fighting in several parts of the far-flung archipelago. Jakarta has been particularly firm in trying to quell separatist movements since East Timor voted for independence in 1999.