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Anti-GAM Raids Continue Despite Catastrophe

31 December 2004

While volunteers, security officers and families are busy collecting and searching for the bodies of victims killed in Sunday's catastrophic tsunami in Aceh, soldiers are continuing their offensive against separatist rebels.

A recent cease-fire offered by the military for Free Aceh Movement (GAM) members, whose hideouts were not affected by the tsunami, appear to be mere rhetoric.

A GAM spokesman said on Thursday the military had killed two separatist guerrillas, including the commander of the Peurelak area in East Aceh, Afrizal bin Abdul Manaf, during crossfire.

The soldiers also burned a house belonging to a villager in Idi Rayeuk, East Aceh, he added.

The Indonesian Military (TNI) headquarters did not categorically confirm that gunfire had erupted in the aftermath of the calamity in Aceh, but said the war on GAM had not been put on hold.

Reports from the field said hundreds of troops were raiding GAM hideouts across East and North Aceh, which had been devastated by the tsunami.

TNI officer Lt. Col. D.J. Nachrowi said the calamity should not be seen as a way for the military to suspend security operations against GAM.

"We are now carrying out two duties: humanitarian work and the security operation.

"The raids to quell the secessionist movement in Aceh will continue unless the President issues a decree to lift the civil emergency and assign us to merely play a humanitarian role in Aceh," Nachrowi said on Thursday.

The military operation in East Aceh has focused on several areas in Idie, covering Teupin Batee, Seunebok Langa, Gampung Jalan, Kuburan Cina, Buket Linteung and Buket Jok.

Another group of hundreds of soldiers were tracking down GAM members in three subdistricts in North Aceh: Makmur, Gandapura and Peusangan.

Sweeping operations also continued there, becoming a routine sight for local villagers.

From Sweden, GAM spokesman Bakhtiar Abdullah blasted TNI chief Gen. Endriartono Sutarto for reneging on his offer for a cease-fire with the rebels and on his pledge to assign most of his troops for relief efforts. The military commander had asked the guerrillas to do the same.

"Endriartono's offer of a cease-fire was a lie," Bakhtiar said.

In Jakarta, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono urged the rebels in the earthquake and tsunami-ravaged province to lay down their weapons and join efforts to rebuild the region. He also called for a permanent end to the decades-long rebellion.

"I call on those who are still fighting, to come out... let us use this historic moment to join and be united again," Susilo said as quoted by AFP.

The continuing separatist fighting raised concern from humanitarian aid workers who are distributing vital aid for the tsunami victims currently languishing at refugee camps across Aceh.

They said their safety would be at risk if the TNI and GAM did not respect a cease-fire in the province, with two thirds of its territory ravaged by tidal waves.

The GAM has been fighting for independence since 1976. The government launched massive military operations in May 2003 and with gunfights taking place every day. No less than 2,500 people, including civilians, have been killed in the operation to date.

Tiarma Siboro,
© The Jakarta Post

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