A series of firefights in Indonesia’s Aceh province left seven soldiers and four separatists dead, officials from the two groups said on Thursday, underscoring the volatility in the resource-rich area.
In the deadliest of at least three battles between the military and Free Aceh Movement (GAM) rebels throughout the northernmost province on Wednesday night, separatists killed six elite air force soldiers who were on patrol near the Aceh capital of Banda Aceh, 1,700 km (1,060 miles) northwest of Jakarta.
“The perpetrators clearly come from GAM. They have studied the classic patrol route and ambushed the car. All six in the car died and the attackers stole their weapons,” Zainal Mutaqin, Aceh military operation spokesman, told Reuters.
GAM spokesman Teungku Sofyan Daud said separately his group was responsible for the ambush near an airport.
“Yes. That was us. We will use every chance there is to show our resistance to the Indonesian military. They have caused much suffering to the Aceh people.”
GAM separatists have been fighting for independence for more than 25 years, saying Jakarta siphons off resources but gives little in return to a province that provides around one fifth of Indonesia’s oil and gas exports.
In a separate incident, policemen gunned down GAM’s western region deputy commander Abu Khaidir and two of his guards, according to GAM and media reports.
“They killed Abu Khaidir after they hunted him into the jungles. They are intensifying their moves and being very disruptive,” Daud said.
Wednesday night’s third bout occured in the rebel stronghold of North Aceh, where a military raid ended with an exchange of fire killing one army soldier and a rebel.