|Subject: AGE: Ex-militia head denies Aceh
Also: Daily Telegraph - Indonesian army uses tsunami chaos to launch attacks on rebels
Ex-militia head denies Aceh claim
By Philip Cornford Aceh
January 19, 2005
The former commander of East Timorese militia troops denied yesterday that he had visited Banda Aceh to organise a force to fight the Free Aceh movement.
"I have never been to Aceh," said Eurico Guterres, who was convicted of war crimes by an Indonesian court. Guterres said he was under city arrest and confined to Jakarta while he appeals against a 10-year jail sentence.
"I would be happy to go to Aceh to help the rehabilitation effort, but not to fight," he said. "That would require organisation which is beyond my resources."
The Daily Telegraph in London reported that up to 900 former East Timorese militia had been sent to Banda Aceh to fight GAM, the Acehnese independence movement.
The paper added that Guterres had visited the provincial capital for talks with retired general Adam Damiri. Damiri, a former commander in East Timor, who was cleared last year of any wrongdoing in the carnage that led up to the province's independence.
A spokesman for the Indonesian military said he had no knowledge of any former East Timorese militia units in Aceh, nor of any visit there by Guterres.
The United Nations yesterday lifted a ban on road travel by its aid workers between Banda Aceh and Medan that had been imposed because of security fears. The head of UN operations in Aceh, Joel Boutreau, said he had imposed the ban as a precautionary measure in the face of rumours of a threat from GAM.
"There was an increased number of rumours so I decided to make a ban. But that has now been lifted. We are travelling on the east coast road," Mr Boutreau said. "We don't expect relief workers to be targets."
But warnings from several foreign governments that relief workers might be at risk from terrorist attacks ensured aid agencies remained on heightened alert. The Danish foreign ministry said on Monday that it, and a number of other countries, had "received information that a terrorist attack was forthcoming against humanitarian organisations in the Aceh region".
The spokesman for the Indonesian military's disaster relief task force in Aceh, Nachrowi, said relief workers were safe to travel between Medan and Banda Aceh.
"There has been no report so far of any disruption on the main Medan-Banda Aceh highway and I can assure you that, so far, both domestic and international relief supplies are continuing through that highway," Nachrowi said.
- With AFP
Indonesian army uses tsunami chaos to launch attacks on rebels
The Indonesian army has taken advantage of the post-tsunami chaos in Aceh to hit back at the province's separatist rebels and their civilian supporters.
Fighting flared yesterday between the army and the Free Aceh Movement on the road between the region's two biggest cities, Banda Aceh and Medan, causing the United Nations to ban its staff from travelling overnight.
Meanwhile an army-backed militia blamed for killing dozens of independence supporters during East Timor's breakaway from Indonesia has established a base in Aceh, the area worst affected by the Boxing Day disaster, which killed 114,000 people in Indonesia. It vowed to defend the province from the rebels, who have been fighting for independence for 30 years. The militia's appearance raises fears that the military is using it to sabotage a proposed ceasefire and intimidate Acehnese civilians.
Eurico Guterres, a militia leader who was convicted but later acquitted of crimes against humanity for inciting the killing of hundreds of civilians during the 1999 UN-sponsored independence ballot in East Timor, visited Aceh last week, according to associates. Eddy Juliansyah, a native Acehnese who runs the militia's Aceh headquarters, said it already has 900 members ready to defend "Indonesian unity".
Since the tsunami devastated Aceh, dozens of militia members have arrived, said Juliansyah. He claimed they were in Aceh to provide assistance for the refugees and to help remove the thousands of bodies.
But there is little evidence of this and, rather than reporting to a local military commander, they report to General Adam Damiri, a former military chief in East Timor. Rights groups say he directed militia operations there and he has led the anti-rebel offensive in Aceh over the past few years.
The army itself stands accused of intimidation. In the lush foothills of the mountains where the rebels operate, away from the international aid operation, local people have reported unusual movements of Indonesian soldiers.
One man described being kidnapped at gunpoint by a squad of soldiers and marched into the jungle where he was told to identify rebels.
• Sebastien Berger, South-East Asia Correspondent, writes: The prime ministers of Sweden, Norway and Finland demanded yesterday that Thailand investigate thoroughly the failure of its meteorological office to issue a warning ahead of the tsunami.
Goran Persson of Sweden, who is in Thailand with his Norwegian and Finnish counterparts, suggested that European tourists would be ill-advised to return if Thailand did not quickly implement a tsunami warning system.
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