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Aceh's horror continues

Jakarta Post - February 21, 2000 (slightly abridged)

Banda Aceh – Horror and tension again reigned here over the weekend when three suspected rebels were killed in a gunfight with police in North Aceh, while in Central Aceh the stench of rotting bodies led residents to a hidden mass grave.

The three identified men were killed during a 20-minute gunfight on Saturday morning when police raided a suspected rebel base. Aceh Police spokesman Lt. Col. Sayed Husaini said the incident occurred in Ulee Nyeueu village, Nisam district. "After the gunfight, we continued combing the area and we seized items such as a walkie-talkie, grenades and grenade launchers from the three dead men," he added.

The incident over the weekend brought this month's death toll in Aceh to at least 93. Separately, police also divulged that villagers had found a site containing 11 decomposed bodies near Uning village, Central Aceh.

Local police chief Lt. Col. Misik Natari said the bodies were found with their hands tied. Without elaborating on how many victims were men, he claimed that the men appeared to have been shot in the mouth. "Locals found their bodies in a 300-meter ravine in Linge Isaq district of the mountainous Burlintang area here on Thursday," Misik said.

Judging from the condition of the bodies it seems that they were killed about two weeks ago, he said, adding that "they were probably thrown into the ravine after being shot dead". Witnesses said the putrid odor around the ravine led them to the location of the bodies, a remote area far away from any housing settlement located on the border of Central and Southeast Aceh.

Police and residents evacuated the bodies on Thursday at noon and decided to bury them properly in a plot near the ravine. "It is almost impossible to identify them. Only one of the remains has a full skull. He had gray hair and false teeth," Misik said.

Up until Sunday afternoon no one had claimed knowledge of or to be related to any of the victims. "We're also trying to cross-check this finding with reports of missing persons, but so far to no avail," he added.

Misik also said that on February 5 there was a similar discovery when the bodies of six unidentified men were found in a ravine near the border of Central and East Aceh.

Central Aceh is a mountainous regency with thick forest and deep ravines. It has a total population of about 300,000 people. The area is widely regarded by military and police as an alternative escape route for the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) separatist rebels when they are cornered in North and East Aceh.

Disappearances have become a common occurrence in Aceh. Both sides – security forces and rebels – often blame the other over various incidents. Meanwhile in Banda Aceh on Sunday, about 500 women held a demonstration to demand that peace be immediately sought to free people from the sense of fear and intimidation which has haunted them for so long.

They lamented that what essentially began as a political conflict escalated to unnecessary acts such as the destruction of schools. "We want all this violence to stop so our children can play and study in peace," read a statement issued by the women. "Children and their parents no longer want to hear of the sudden discovery of a body near where they live."