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Military releases Aceh villagers

Agence France Presse - January 7, 1999

Jakarta – The Indonesian military has released most of the scores of villagers detained in a sweep of separatist targets in troubled Aceh province, a rights official said Thursday.

Of 170 men taken into custody since Sunday, some 166 were released on Wednesday, the director of the Iskandar Muda Legal Aid Foundation, Yacob Hamzah, told AFP from the northern Aceh city of Lhokseumawe.

The release came ahead of the arrival of a four-man National Commission of Human Rights team in Lhokseumawe where the detainees had been held.

Local military commander, Colonel Johnny Wahab, put the number of people released on Wednesday at 133, the Jakarta Post said. "We released these people because thy did not commit any serious offenses ... Their mistakes can be forgiven and tolerated," Wahab was quoted as saying.

The mass detentions followed military raids on several villages in a hunt for Ahmad Kandang, leader of the Free Aceh separatist movement. The army has blamed the group for instigating kidnapping of two marine officers and for the murder of seven soldiers in a separate ambush.

At least 17 people were killed and scores wounded in Sunday's raids but Kandang was not found. "There were reports that two young children had died in Sunday's raid in Simpang Kibre, some 20 kilometers (12 miles) west of Lhokseumawe, but I have yet to confirm this news," Hamzah told AFP.

Hamzah added that be believed the imminent arrival of the human rights team and several foreign reporters from Jakarta had made the military withdraw or lower the profile of some 700 troops in the city. "Today there are no soldiers, I don't know where they hid. Yesterday they were like ants all over the place," he said.

Two marines, one of them an officer, were kidnapped on Wednesday last week in the north Aceh district of Muara Dua. The kidnapping happened a day after the murders of seven off-duty soldiers in east Aceh. Their bodies were thrown in a river. Most of the bodies found bore torture marks.