Trials Begin Of Indonesia Troops In Aceh Killings
January 17, 1999

Yahoo! News

JAKARTA, Indonesia (Reuters) - Indonesia's military began a court martial on Saturday of an officer whose troops allegedly set upon civilians detained in the restive province of Aceh and tortured four to death, an army official said.

The official said the trial of Major Bayu Najib got under way in the provincial capital of Banda Aceh, some 1,000 miles northwest of Jakarta. He said further courts martial would begin on Sunday.

The military plans to put 27 soldiers on trial for beating and torturing villagers who had been detained in a raid on a village suspected of harboring separatist guerrillas. Four people were killed and 20 injured in the incident.

Troops in the staunchly Muslim, resource-rich province are hunting an alleged separatist leader called Ahmad Kandang, whom they accuse of masterminding attacks on police and the military.

The detainees who were attacked last week were netted in a raid on a village by troops searching for Kandang.

Violence has flared in the province over the last month.

In late December a mob of machete-wielding villagers dragged off-duty soldiers out of a public bus. Six were tortured and killed and two other soldiers are still missing.

In early January a number of civilians were killed when security forces and separatists exchanged gunfire during a protest by a mob which attacked government buildings near the industrial town of Lhokseumawe. Human rights groups say 17 died while the army puts the toll at 11.

A separatist movement has been simmering for years in Aceh, fuelled by claims that Jakarta gives little in return for plundering the region's natural resources.

The military effectively ran the province for nine years until August, sending in combat troops to battle a growing insurgency. Human rights groups claim a nine-year military crackdown against separatist rebels involved widespread torture, rape and murder.

Separatist protests have gained momentum in a number of parts of the Indonesian archipelago since the downfall of former President Suharto in May after a 32 year autocratic rule during which any attempts to break away from Jakarta were swiftly crushed.

Violence and crime have flared across Indonesia in recent months as the nation faces its worst economic and political crisis in decades.