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Victims of Aceh conflict await justice in Indonesia

Associated Press - April 19, 2013

Niniek Karmini, Jakarta, Indonesia – An international rights group urged Indonesian authorities on Thursday to seek justice for victims of a separatist conflict in Aceh province that ended with a peace agreement nearly eight years ago, warning that growing resentment could lead to future violence.

Amnesty International said in a report that Indonesian security forces killed, tortured and raped scores of civilians during the years of violence in the province on the northern tip of Sumatra island. It said victims and family members are still struggling, many wondering what happened to relatives who disappeared.

Rebel forces were also accused of taking hostages and killing people believed to be linked to the government.

The group urged the government to publicly acknowledge that widespread human rights abuses occurred and set up a human rights court and a truth and reconciliation commission, as agreed to under the 2005 peace deal. It also called for a formal apology and comprehensive reparations for victims.

The results of a limited government investigation into human rights abuses in Aceh have not been made public, it said.

"It has contributed to a culture of impunity for the serious rights abuses committed during the conflict," Isabelle Arradon, Amnesty International's deputy Asia-Pacific director, said at a news conference in Jakarta. "Not a single new case has been prosecuted since the 2005 peace deal," she said.

Aceh experienced almost constant fighting for more than a century. Violence intensified in 1976 between the Free Aceh Movement and government security forces, killing an estimated 15,000 people.

Efforts to end the civil war gained momentum after a massive earthquake struck in December 2004, triggering a tsunami in the Indian Ocean that killed 230,000 people, half of them in Aceh.

Under the peace agreement, the rebels gave up their long-held demand for independence and handed over their weapons. The government allowed them to participate in local politics and permitted the predominantly Muslim province to implement a version of Sharia law while enjoying semi-autonomy from the central government.

Last month, the Aceh Legislative Council passed a bylaw allowing the official use of the former rebel flag. Thousands of Acehnese later took to the streets demanding that the central government approve it.

But President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said the move could be a setback for the peace deal. Talks to find a solution are being held by local and central authorities.