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Gunfire Rings Out Near Tsunami Camp

LELY T. DJUHARIJanuary 20, 2005

LAMBREH, Indonesia (AP) _ A barrage of automatic gunfire rang out Thursday near an Indonesian relief camp for tsunami survivors, prompting mothers cradling babies to dive to the ground and whisper prayers for their safety.

Nobody was injured and the shooting did not appear to be directed at the refugees on the hilly mountain resort of Lambreh. However, it underscored the fragile security situation in Aceh, where separatist guerrillas and government forces have been fighting for 27 years.

Refugees at the camp, home to about 200 survivors of the Dec. 26 earthquake-tsunami disaster, dove for cover, screamed and prayed when four bursts of gunfire came from nearby hills. Neither the rebels nor soldiers were visible from the camp.

``I cannot imagine a more terrible nightmare,″ said Revita, a 28-year-old midwife who broke down in tears after the shooting.

She said that despite the shooting she had no plans to flee the camp, 20 miles from the provincial capital, Banda Aceh. The camp had no security guards.

Rebels and the Indonesian army both have declared cease-fires to assist the humanitarian effort in the wake of the tsunami disaster. The military and rebels plan peace talks by month’s end, but there have been sporadic reports of fighting between the two sides.

``It’s a rebel stronghold. We held an operation because the rebels were making trouble,″ said Maj. Benny Suharto, the local deputy commander, who provided no further details.

Rebel spokesman Tengku Muharram said the military often shoots in the air to provoke his men to shoot back. ``I told my men not to take the bait. And we only shoot in self defense,″ Muharram said.

Separately Thursday, Indonesia’s army chief of staff claimed troops had killed at least 120 separatist rebels in the past two weeks in Aceh province despite the informal cease-fire.

``In the past two weeks, we were forced to kill at least 120 members of GAM (the Free Aceh Movement) and seize their weapons,″ state-run news agency Antara quoted Ryamizard Ryacudu as saying. ``If they don’t want reconciliation, we will wage war against them.″

Sporadic clashes between rebels and troops in Aceh have occurred since the disaster, but there have been few reports of fatalities. Before the tsunami struck, the military claimed to have killed about 2,500 alleged Aceh rebels since it pulled out of peace talks in May 2003.

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