Indonesia Releases Aceh Prisoners, Pulls Out Troops
January 7, 1999

Yahoo! News


LHOKSEUMAWE, Indonesia (Reuters) - Indonesia's military Thursday released most of those arrested after a week of separatist violence in Aceh and said it had no intention up putting the rebellious province back under its control.

``The military operation status will not return to Aceh and there are no plans to do so,'' chief military spokesman Major General Syamsul Ma'arif told reporters.

State Secretary Akbar Tanjung earlier warned that the government might put the north Sumatran province back under a ''military operations status'' which ended in August after nine years.

More than 20 people have been killed in the past week in a rash of violence in the resource-rich province the Indonesian military says was sparked by rebels trying to break from Jakarta rule.

The violence peaked Sunday when 11 civilians were killed after troops fired on a mob of thousands attacking government buildings near Lhokseumawe, some 1,600 km (1,000) miles) northwest of the capital Jakarta on the northern tip of Sumatra.

``The current operations there are just to restore the situation. All additional troops there will be returned to wherever they came from. We are slowly taking them out as the situation has calmed down,'' Ma'arif said.

Police, still part of Indonesia's armed forces, said they had released 133 people arrested in Aceh after the clashes.

``Only four people are left and will be brought to the court. The rest were released yesterday (Wednesday),'' Colonel Johny Wahab, military commander of Lhokseumawe told Reuters.

Witnesses said the city had returned to normal.

``The situation is good, not many troops are seen in the city, they might have been sent back or hidden since the (Indonesian National Human Rights Commission) team is coming,'' Jacob Hamzah of Lhokseumawe Legal Aid Institute told Reuters.

Commission members have just arrived in Lhokseumawe where analysts say the grievances against Jakarta have more to do with poverty and gross human rights abuses during the nine-year military operation than any separatist movement.

The military effectively ran the province for nine years until August, sending in combat troops to battle a growing insurgency.

Separatist protests have gained momentum in several parts of the huge Indonesian archipelago since the downfall of former President Suharto in May. During his 32-autocratic rule the authorities swiftly and brutally crushed any attempts to break away from Jakarta.