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Death toll rises to 21 in Aceh

Reuters - February 7, 1999

Jakarta – The death toll from a clash between civilians and security forces in Indonesia's troubled Aceh province last week has risen to 21, a human rights group said on Sunday.

On Wednesday, police opened fire as they tried to disperse a crowd of around 5,000 people listening to a separatist speech in Idi Cut, east Aceh, 1,530 km northwest of Jakarta.

"The total number of dead bodies discovered so far is 21," Hamzah Yakob of the Legal Aid Institute told Reuters.

The dead bodies were pulled out of a local river and all had gunshot wounds. Yakob said at least eight of the bodies had been weighed down in sacks with stones.

Aceh, which has centuries-old tradition of separatist struggle, has been hit with violence since the beginning of the year.

Colonel Johnny Wahab, military commander for Lhokseumawe, in the northern tip of Sumatra, told Reuters the death toll from the shootings currently stood at seven but the number may rise.

"We are currently verifying the numbers," he said. Wahab also said a team comprising police and military police has been set up to investigate the shootings.

[According to a February 11 report by Amnesty International, Anwar Yusuf, a 23-year-old volunteer with a human rights organization, has reportedly "disappeared". AI said it was "seriously concerned" for his safety and belive his "disappearance" is linked to the February 3 killings. Yusuf was apparently taken from his home by a man who identified himself as a member of Koramil Idi Rayeuk. The man had no arrest warrant and according to Yusuf's mother, he was told that he would be taken to Koramil at Idi Rayeau for questioning in connection with the incident on February 3. When he failed to return the next day his mother went to Koramil and was told that they had no information but that she should check with the East Aceh regional police command (Polres). Polres did not give her any information either - James Balowski.]