An Indonesian military transport plane has crashed at an airport in the troubled Aceh Province. All passengers and crew escaped before the plane burst into flames. Separatist Aceh rebels say they shot down the aircraft, but the military denies their claim.
Indonesian military spokesman Major Zainal Mataquin says the Hercules C-130 aircraft lost its brakes when it landed Thursday at Lhokseumawe in Aceh Province. The plane hit a fence, caught fire and was destroyed. The military and government insist mechanical failure is to blame. But the separatist Free Aceh Movement, or GAM, is claiming responsibility. GAM spokesman Amri Bin Abdulwahad tells VOA spokesman his group shot the plane down and warned there would be more military planes targeted unless the government stops sending troops into the violence wracked region.
The Indonesian government declared an all out war on GAM last April shortly after a violence marred truce ended after seven months. A recent government autonomy plan for Aceh has been rejected by the rebels, who have been fighting for independence since 1976.
Local and international human rights groups blame the military for targeting civilians in their anti-insurgency campaign that has cost the lives of more than 1300 people this year.
Aceh is just one of several provinces where the government is trying to quell ethnic and religious violence. In the eastern island of Sulawesi Thursday, warring Muslim and Christian groups say they agreed on peace deal to end violence that has claimed at least 1,000 lives in three years. Four previous rounds of peace talks failed.
Indonesian Justice Minister Yusril Ihza Mahendra welcomed the peace accord, saying he hopes it will be a model for ending religious violence in the Maluku islands where more than 9,000 have been killed since Muslim-Christian clashes began in 1999. Meanwhile, in Indonesia's eastern most province of Irian Jaya, security preparations are underway for President Megawati Sukarnoputri's visit Saturday. The goodwill trip is aimed at stemming the flowing tide of separatism there. Ms. Megawati will inaugurate the special autonomy plan for the province, which will be renamed Papua.