Accessibility links

Violence Continues in Indonesia's Aceh Province - 2004-07-21

Reports from Indonesia's northern province of Aceh say that more than 200 people have been killed by the army and police in the past two months. The continuing battle between security forces and separatists shows no sign of abating.

When the Indonesian authorities lifted martial law in Aceh two months ago, there was widespread hope that it would calm tensions between the separatist rebels and the army and police units pursuing them.

But officials said Wednesday that 232 people, whom they described as "suspected terrorists," had been killed since the resumption of civilian rule. That's an average of more than four a day.

According to the army, more than 2,000 people have been killed in the past 14 months. Human rights organizations have been highly critical of the tactics used by government forces, saying that many of the casualties were civilian bystanders not involved with the separatists of the Free Aceh Movement.

Academic Kirsten Schulze has spent the last year researching the conflict in Aceh. She says there have been some beneficial changes since the repeal of martial law, but she says little has changed regarding security.

"Where a movement has been made since the downgrading to a civil emergency is on the economic side and more the civilian elements where you have seen a lifting of some of the restrictions, and movement has become easier within Aceh, but overall I think very little has changed," she said.

Indonesia's president, Megawati Sukarnoputri has sought a military solution to the problem in Aceh. But, she is standing for re-election in September and opinion polls show her trailing her former security minister, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

When he was security minister, Mr. Yudhoyono won support among ordinary Acehnese for backing an internationally-brokered cease-fire. Although the truce broke down 18 months ago, he has promised to seek alternative ways of placating the province while keeping it within Indonesia.

Kirsten Schulze says she sees little hope of any political initiatives until after the presidential elections in eight weeks time.