Indonesia’s military on Saturday claimed it had killed 30 separatist rebels in tsunami-ravaged Aceh province in the space of a week, threatening a fragile truce agreed on after the Dec. 26 natural disaster.
A rebel spokesman alleged most of the 30 were unarmed villagers caught up in army sweeps.
A top commander, meanwhile, reportedly accused the rebels of lying during ongoing peace talks.
The flurry of claims indicate the post-tsunami informal cease-fire is not sticking and underline the obstacles to a lasting peace in the region, which has been wracked by fighting between government troops and a small separatist army since 1976.
The military said in a statement it had killed 30 rebels and confiscated 29 weapons in the final week of February. It gave no more details on the killings, only a handful of which were reported at the time.
Rebel spokesman Muksalmina said only 15 insurgents had been killed since the Dec. 26 tsunami and that the rest of the victims were innocent villagers.
“This figure is just not true,” he said by a cell phone from an undisclosed location in the province. “Everyday the army slaughters the people of Aceh who sympathize with our struggle. Even simple villagers who don’t know anything are killed.”
Disaster spurred fresh peace talks
The tsunami killed more than 120,000 people in Aceh and left some 400,000 people homeless. The scale of the disaster led to fresh peace talks amid fears the conflict could disrupt international aid efforts there. Humanitarian workers say their operations are so far unaffected by the fighting in the oil- and gas- rich province.
The latest round of talks, which are being held in Finland, ended with the rebels stating they were prepared to shelve their demand for independence in exchange for greater self-government and a guarantee the military would withdraw.
Aceh military commander Maj. Gen. Endang Suwarya said he doubted the rebels would keep their word, Kompas daily newspaper reported.
“The facts on the ground show GAM have bad intentions. They are attacking the military, civilians and humanitarian workers,” he said using the Indonesian acronym for the Free Aceh Movement.
The government has said it is hopeful the latest round of talks can lead to a peaceful settlement to the conflict. But sections of the country’s powerful military are known to be opposed to any deal. The army currently controls Aceh as its own fiefdom and runs scores of legal and illegal business there.