Nine dead in bomb attack in Aceh

 

INDONESIA: A bomb killed nine people, including a baby, and injured more than 20 at an open-air new year celebration where hundreds had gathered in Indonesia's troubled Aceh province.

The Aceh martial law administration which has ruled the region since talks between the government and the separatist GAM - Free Aceh Movement - collapsed in May, blamed the rebels for the blast. GAM, which has fought for independence for the gas-rich province since 1976, could not be reached for comment.

"The perpetrators clearly come from GAM, but we also regret that the event organisers did not adequately co-operate with the military which could have provided proper security for the show," Aceh's military chief, Maj Gen Endang Suwarya, said.

The spectators had gathered in a public field near a night market for a fiesta on Wednesday in Peureulak, 1,600 km north-west of Jakarta, when the bomb exploded.

"Nine civilians died and more than 20 suffered heavy injuries after the blast," according to Lieut Col Ahmad Yani Basuki, an Aceh military spokesman. "It was quite a big bang and we feel very concerned because all of the victims were enjoying a New Year's Eve music show."

Construction worker Muhammad Amir said: "The security was very weak. Anyone could come and go into the middle of the field and join the crowd in front. The explosion was really loud and, moments after it, people just went wild and tried to run," said.

Most of the victims were young revellers. A baby girl, a seven-year-old boy and three teenagers were among the casualties.

Indonesia's police chief had warned on Tuesday that Islamic militants might launch attacks on New Year's Eve. There were no reports of other major violence in the world's largest Muslim nation.

Last May, the Indonesian government launched an offensive against GAM and imposed martial law in the province, on the northern tip of Sumatra island, after negotiations with the rebels in Tokyo failed to find a peaceful resolution.

The military says it has killed or captured about 2,000 GAM members in the offensive - a statement difficult to verify because of travel curbs on the media and others in Aceh.

Several humanitarian groups say civilians are the ones most troubled by the war between the government forces and GAM. - (Reuters)