BANDA ACEH: A series of explosions rocked the district town of Lhokseumawe in north Aceh yesterday, as the death toll continued to mount at the end of the first week of a massive government operation to crush separatist rebels in the province.
At least five people were killed or found dead across Aceh by noon yesterday, witnesses and police said, while a delegation of five government ministers arrived to assess the situation.
Three explosions heard behind the fish market in Lhokseumawe sparked panic in the market.
“They came from above,” said a woman who heard the explosions, like loud thumps, which caused windows to shake more than one kilometre away.
Brig-Gen Bambang Darmono, deputy chief of the Aceh military operations, told journalists later that the three explosions were caused by bombs dropped from air force aircraft.
“They were sonic bombs, aimed at demoralising the enemy, in this case, demoralising the GAM in the Sawang and Nissam areas,” said Brig-Gen Darmono.
Hundreds of residents living along the city's shoreline fled or were asked by the military to move to a local mosque at the time of the explosions. “The military told us to come here,” said one woman.
“We gathered you here to avoid unpleasant things happening between GAM and TNI,” a plainclothes soldier with a rifle slung over his back told the crowd of mainly women and children.
Another blast late on Saturday at the Puesong market in downtown Lhokseumawe appeared to have been produced by a homemade bomb, said a captain at the military media centre.
There were no casualties as the market, one kilometre from the military headquarters, was empty, the captain said.
He could not immediately confirm reports by witnesses that some four hours earlier, a grenade targeting the helicopter pad near the military headquarters was launched by an unidentified group.
Aceh has been under martial law since Monday as up to 40,000 police and soldiers confront what the government estimates are around 5,000 rebels from the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), which has been fighting for an independent state since 1976.
The bodies of two alleged GAM rebels lay beside the main road on the eastern edge of Lhokseumawe yesterday.
Two other bodies were found at separate locations in Aceh Besar district yesterday, said humanitarian activists there.
Darwis Jeunib of the local GAM command said he had seen rebels kill one soldier during an attack on a military post in the Bireun district on Saturday.
“One soldier was killed, I myself saw it. We fired a rocket,” said Jeunib.
The military media centre could not immediately comment on the report.
As of Friday, the military said one soldier and one policeman had died in combat while 52 rebels had been killed.
Also yesterday, two men on a motorcycle shot dead a known pro-Indonesian man while he drank coffee in Aceh Besar, said police spokesman Sayed Husainy.
Husainy also said that at least 29 suspected GAM members have been arrested in the past week on suspicion of plotting to overthrow the government.
About 280 schools have been burned or otherwise destroyed during the first days of fighting, the UN children's fund, Unicef, said on Friday.
During his visit to Aceh yesterday, People's Welfare Minister Yusuf Kalla said the government would make available whatever funds necessary to rebuild the burnt schools. – AFP
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