Fighting continues in Aceh

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The Independent Online

At least 15 people have died in renewed fighting in the troubled Indonesian province of Aceh, where escalating tensions threaten to spark all-out confrontation between security forces and separatist rebels.

At least 15 people have died in renewed fighting in the troubled Indonesian province of Aceh, where escalating tensions threaten to spark all-out confrontation between security forces and separatist rebels.

Twelve of the victims were civilians, according to local residents and human rights activists. In one incident, in southern Aceh, security forces hunting for rebels responsible for an earlier attack on a police post allegedly killed four people including a pregnant woman and her two young children.

In another incident, in eastern Aceh, unidentified armed men reportedly shot dead three civilians and wounded four others after herding them from their homes to an isolated spot and opening fire.

Free Aceh Movement (GAM) rebels, who have been fighting for an independent homeland for 25 years, held peace talks with government representatives in Geneva just over a month ago.

In the latest upsurge of violence, three alleged GAM members were killed in a police raid on their village near the capital, Banda Aceh. Police said that they died in an exchange of gunfire and that a civilian was killed by cross-fire. However, the local rebel commander denied that the three belonged to the GAM and said they were villagers who had been running away.

The Indonesian authorities recently announced that they would launch "limited military operations" to clamp down on the GAM.

The deteriorating security situation has led to the suspension of operations in gas and oil fields owned by the US firm, Exxon Mobil, in northern Aceh. Some 2,000 troops are to be deployed to protect the installations, which are an important source of foreign exchange for the Indonesian economy.

In a fresh outbreak of ethnic violence in Central Kalimantan province on the island of Borneo, indigenous Dyak tribesmen killed eight Madurese settlers found hiding in the jungle. Dyaks have murdered nearly 500 migrants from the island of Madura in a recent campaign of ethnic cleansing, and more than 70,000 people have been forced to flee Borneo.

Amnesty International has accused the Indonesian government of perpetrating some of its worst human rights abuses in Aceh and Irian Jaya, another restive province. Amnesty says that hundreds of GAM rebels have been captured and tortured, before vanishing.

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