Aceh rebels stand trial


Three members of the separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM — Gerakan Aceh Merdeka) have been indicted by the East Aceh District Court for alleged participation in armed struggle against the Indonesian military. They are accused of murdering members of the police and military and stealing guns.

The three charged are a 50-year-old retired police officer, a 56-year-old fisherman and a 33-year-old army officer. Another 10 members of the movement went on trial on March 16 and March 23, while a further eight will go to trial sometime after May.

The prosecution claims the activists received military training in "a country in North Africa". They are also charged with persuading local youths to become members of GAM and telling them the movement aimed at establishing a new state.

Aceh, Indonesia's northernmost province, is located at the northern tip of Sumatra. It has a population of almost 3 million. Aceh won special provincial status in 1959 after a six-year uprising against central government control.

Renewed resistance to Indonesian control began in 1977, when a returned exile, Hasan di Tiro, "redeclared" independence and formed the Aceh-Sumatra National Liberation Front, now known as GAM. Hundreds were arrested by the military throughout Aceh and Sumatra between 1977 and 1979. Di Tiro escaped to exile in Sweden.

The movement revived in late 1989, when GAM fighters began to attack military targets in Aceh. It is rumoured that 150 guerillas, armed and trained by di Tiro, entered Aceh. In response Indonesia poured up to 6000 troops into the province.

The resurgence of the rebellion has been fuelled by the government's policy of settling thousands of Javanese transmigrants in Aceh.

International human rights groups say hundreds, possibly thousands, of Acehnese have died in military operations against GAM. Many more, mostly civilians, have been arbitrarily imprisoned.

More than 100 Acehnese fleeing the fighting have arrived in neighbouring Malaysia since mid-March.