Jakarta – Nine civilians were killed and 23 seriously injured when Indonesian troops fired on "separatists" Sunday after a mob attacked a government building in the rebellious province of Aceh, local police said. Witnesses and human rights groups had earlier put the death toll at six.
"The nine dead civilians were shot, 23 suffered heavy injuries and we have detained 123 people," northern Aceh police chief Colonel Iskandar Hasan told reporters in the town of Lhokseumawe Sunday night. "We fired warning shots and then shot at the separatists."
"There were certain groups who tried to instigate the crowds. They belong to a group led by Ahmad Kandang," Hasan said, referring to an alleged local separatist leader. Newspapers quoted other local security officials as saying the rebels had used civilians as human shields.
The violence erupted Sunday morning in the village of Kandang near the industrial center of Lhokseumawe, some 1,600 km (1,000 miles) northwest of the capital Jakarta on the northern tip of the island of Sumatra. A crowd marching toward Lhokseumawe to protest the detention of a villager by police attacked a government building en route, residents said.
Separatist movements have been simmering for years in the resource-rich, staunchly Muslim province for years. Locals and human rights groups say a nine-year army crackdown against the rebels resulted in widespread torture, rape and summary executions.
[On January 5, Reuters reported that combat troops may be sent back to Aceh following the recent spate of violence. State Secretary, Akbar Tanjung was quoted as saying it was also possible that the province may be returned to the status of a "military operations zone". This was later denied by armed forces chief, Wiranto, who was quoted by the Indonesian Observer on January 7 as saying "ABRI will not revive Aceh's status as a special military operational region" - James Balowski.]