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Indonesian Rebels Free 138 Captives - 2004-05-18


Separatist rebels in the Indonesian province of Aceh have released at least 138 captives to the Red Cross. The releases come shortly after the government scrapped martial law in Aceh, which human rights activists say had led to widespread abuses.

The Free Aceh Movement released the captives, including a three-month-old baby, over the past few days, after negotiations with the Red Cross. Some of the captives had been held since Jakarta imposed martial law on Aceh almost a year ago in an effort to end more than 25 years of separatist fighting.

Human rights activists have accused both sides of widespread abuses. Last week, Amnesty International said the military had terrorized people with numerous killings and threats of arrest, torture and ill treatment. The report didn't spare the separatist movement, known by its Indonesian acronym GAM, accusing it of kidnapping and robbing people.

The rebels accused many of its captives of collaborating with the military authorities.

Jakarta says martial law will be lifted on Wednesday, the first anniversary of its imposition, but says the 40,000 troops in Aceh will remain, albeit under a civilian administrator.

The government says it has not yet decided who the new civilian administrator will be. Newspaper reports indicate it will not be the previous governor, who has been accused of corruption. Observers say that would go some way to addressing one of the main grievances of the Acehnese: lack of justice.

Landry Subianto is an analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta, and he says that this is a step in the right direction, but the government still needs to do more.

"They now must concentrate on the improvement of the social facilities, and also the humanitarian, the development issues in Aceh and also the corruption case, and I don't sense any urgency within the government to improve the whole situations," he said.

The conflict in Aceh started in the 1970's, when the local population started agitating for a larger share of the proceeds of the province's oil and gas fields. Analysts say that Jakarta's brutal attempts to suppress the revolt entrenched hatred among the population and made the problem even more intractable.

Indonesians go to the polls to elect a new president in July, and both leading contenders for the post say they will look for new and less violent ways to calm the situation.

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