Subject: Deadly militia sets up in Aceh

Courier Mail (Queensland, Australia)

January 18, 2005 Tuesday

Deadly militia sets up in Aceh

Marianne Kearney

A MILITARY-backed militia group responsible for widespread killing and looting when Indonesia pulled out of East Timor has established a base in tsunami-devastated Aceh.

The local leader of Laskar Merah Putih, or Red and White Troops, says the group is ready to defend the province from separatists.

The appearance of the group raises fears the military will try to use the militia to sabotage a proposed post-tsunami ceasefire with the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), and to intimidate Acehnese civilians.

Confirmation of the group's presence has come as Australian Defence Minister Robert Hill toured Aceh yesterday ahead of Opposition foreign affairs spokesman, Kevin Rudd.

Mr Hill said Canberra encouraged a peaceful resolution to the long-running conflict.

But Mr Rudd was less upbeat, predicting that the outpouring of grief and goodwill following the tsunami may not be enough to forge a peaceful outcome in Aceh.

"I think it's fair to say that there is not a whole lot of optimism around the place that this will produce a magic wand which will solve a long-standing problem," Mr Rudd said after a meeting with his Indonesian foreign affairs minister Hassan Wirayuda.

For more than two decades GAM has been embroiled in a civil conflict with Indonesia aimed at establishing Aceh as an independent state.

Notorious East Timorese militia leader Eurico Guterres has already visited Aceh, according to Eddy Juliansyah, a native Acehnese who runs Laskar's headquarters in Banda Aceh.

Guterres was charged but later acquitted of crimes against humanity for inciting his East Timorese militia group to kill hundreds of civilians during the 1999 independence ballot.

Juliansyah yesterday said Laskar had 900 members in Aceh ready to defend "Indonesian unity", and said they could draw on a 15,000 membership from across Indonesia. But he said the Aceh wing of the militia group was not armed.

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