Military court convicts three soldiers over Aceh rights abuses

LHOKSEUMAWE, Indonesia (AP) - An Indonesian military tribunal on Monday sentenced three soldiers to four months and twenty days in prison for the severe beatings of residents in a remote village during the army's offensive against separatist rebels in Aceh province. 

The verdict against the three low-ranking officers came amid reports that Indonesia's poorly trained troops have executed several suspected rebels since the government launched its offensive in Aceh on May 19. 

Judge Maj. Hulwani said the three soldiers were guilty of beating several villagers unconscious during a May 27 raid on Lawang village in north Aceh.  

He sentenced them each to four months and 20 days in prison. 

During the same raid, troops also torched several houses and killed Abu Bakar, a suspected rebel whom they said was trying to escape. 

Villagers told The Associated Press the day after the raid that soldiers dragged Bakar from his house and executed him. 

Officials say they have no plans to charge anyone over his killing. 

Hulwani, who goes by a single name, said the seemingly light sentence passed down Monday against the three soldiers was because they they admitted their wrongdoing and had no criminal record. 

It was not immediately clear whether they would be allowed to remain in the force. 

The military says it has killed more than 100 rebels in Aceh in the current campaign, but villagers and the insurgents say that many of those killed were civilians. 

Last week, the New York based Human Rights Watch said it had "received reports of extrajudicial executions by Indonesian forces, of plans by the Indonesian military to forcibly relocate large numbers of Acehnese.'' 

Senior officers deny that soldiers are targeting civilians, but have acknowledged that it is hard to distinguish between the insurgents and villagers. 

Indonesia launched the current offensive and imposed martial law after peace talks aimed at ending a 27-year civil war collapsed. 

Around 5,000 rebels are fighting against more than 30,000 government troops for independence of this oil- and gas-rich province. 

About 12,000 people have been killed in the conflict. 

Both sides have been accused of grave human rights abused during the course of the conflict. - AP 

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