16 die in Aceh violence

PIDIE, Indonesia, AFP

Hundreds of thousands tried to beat tight security Thursday to reach the capital of Indonesia’s troubled Aceh province for a pro-independence rally, as police and residents said 16 people had died in two days of violence. Security forces killed 12 people in separate incidents on Wednesday as they sought to bar them from reaching the provincial capital of Banda Aceh for the two-day rally on Friday and Saturday. A 13th person died Thursday and five others were in a critical condition after they were gunned down by security forces in the Ulee Gle area of Pidie district, some 75 kilometers (46 miles) from Banda Aceh, a local journalist said. They had resisted attempts by troops to block them from joining the rally, he added. Three bodies were also found on Thursday in two areas in Pidie. The bodies all bore the marks of gunshot wounds. The deaths brought to 16 the number of people killed in the past two days in Aceh, a staunchly Muslim province on the northern tip of Sumatra island. Aceh police operations spokesman, Senior Superintendent Kusbini Imbar, estimated about 10,000 people had entered Banda Aceh in the past few days. “It is rather difficult to get a more precise estimate of their number because they are all over the city, sleeping in vacant lots or open spaces,” Imbar told AFP from Banda Aceh, denying police were preventing them from reaching the city. “We are only checking their identities and the papers of their vehicles,” Imbar said. But Muhammad Saleh, an activist from the organizing committee, told AFP 20,000 people were already packing one area of the city.