A U.S. based human rights group has accused Indonesia's security forces of gross abuses in the country's separatist northern province of Aceh. Indonesia has severely restricted access to the province, making it all but impossible to get a clear picture of what is going on.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch accuses Indonesian security forces of waging what it calls a "hidden war" in its attempts to suppress the long-running separatist insurgency in Aceh. In a 50-page report issued late Wednesday, Human Rights Watch says the military is guilty of murder, torture, and arbitrary attacks on civilians. The group is calling on Jakarta to open up Aceh to international observers, humanitarian organizations and journalists.
The government declared martial law in the province in May and effectively closed Aceh off to outsiders. Human rights watch says this has led to an atmosphere of impunity among the military, which is known by its Indonesian initials "TNI."
Indonesian authorities have reacted angrily to the report and counter they are trying to stamp out abuses. Marty Natalegawa is the spokesman for the Indonesian Foreign Ministry in Jakarta. "There have been misconduct by elements of the TNI, of that's no doubt," he says. "But the difference with the past is that those who have committed these abuses they have been bought to trial and they have been convicted."
Human Rights Watch says that the only trials held so far have been for minor crimes, reinforcing the impression of impunity. The group was not able to gain access to Aceh. But its report is based on interviews with 85 Acehenese who have taken refuge in neighboring Malaysia.
The authors of the paper also say that they were not able to collect any data on credible reports that the rebels of the Free Aceh Movement, known as GAM, had also committed human rights abuses - albeit on a much lesser scale.
The rebels have been fighting for an independent Aceh for more than a quarter of a century, and aid agencies estimate that more than 13-thousand people have died in that time. Most of the victims have been civilians, caught between the rebels and their pursuers.