Military hits Aceh rebels with air strikes

JAKARTA: Indonesia's military said yesterday it had used helicopters to fire rockets at suspected rebel positions in Aceh province, forcing residents to flee their homes. 

The military had since Sunday fired rockets from helicopters at several rebel areas at Nisam in North Aceh district, said spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Yani Basuki. 

“The aim of the strike is to prevent rebels from leaving their areas; it is not intended to kill,” Basuki said. 

Basuki did not say how many were forced to leave their homes for refugee camps but the Jakarta Post said about 10,000 people from three villages had been driven out. 

The military on May 19 launched an all-out assault to crush Free Aceh Movement (GAM) separatist guerillas, who have been fighting for independence since 1976. 

GAM chief spokesman Sofyan Daud said here the assault continued yesterday. 

“There are victims among the residents,” he said, but was unable to provide a figure. 

Daud denied that rebels were still in the area being attacked. He also denied rebels planted two homemade bombs that exploded in the capital Banda Aceh on Monday, injuring three people. 

The Jakarta Post reported that thousands of Aceh civil servants were on edge before a screening set to start yesterday to test their loyalty to the republic. 

Many had expressed concerns that the screening would land them in jail should they not pass it and said they were under pressure from both sides. 

“GAM has guns and lists of civil servants. Meanwhile, if we fail the government test, we will be considered GAM accomplices,” civil servant Munir said. 

In Banda Aceh, an activist who campaigned for an independence referendum in the province was jailed for five years for sedition. Judges said Muhammad Nazar, 30, was guilty of urging Acehnese to call for a referendum on self-rule and to support separatist rebels, in three of his speeches in January and February. 

Nazar, who in 2001 was jailed for one year for similar offences, called the verdict “the death knell to freedom of expression”. – AFP  

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