TORONTO (AFP) - Canada pressed Indonesia to safeguard a ceasefire between its military and separatist rebels in the tsunami-striken region of Aceh, as reports surfaced of fresh fighting.

Monday 10 January 2005

Canadian Foreign Minister Pierre Pettigrew said he had raised the fighting with Indonesian counterpart Hasan Wirayuda in Jakarta on Wednesday, becoming the latest of several western political leaders to do so.

"I made it clear that Canada wants that ceasefire to be respected by all parties including the military and the independence movement," Pettigrew told reporters in a conference call from Phuket, Thailand.

His remarks followed a demand by human rights groups for the withdrawal of the Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI) from emergency relief efforts in the area hammered by the December 26 tragedy.

"It is completely unacceptable that the military is engaged in launching attacks against the civilian population and delivering relief aid at the same time," says Nancy Slamet, of the Canada-based KAIROS’ International Human Rights Program.

A TNI spokesman admitted last week that despite the disaster an offensive against the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) was continuing, in the region, which saw at least 100,000 people killed in the tsunami tragedy.

But Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono Thursday repeated a call to separatist rebels in the tsunami-hit province of Aceh to end the conflict.

An AFP reporter in Aceh said Thursday that clashes broke out between soldiers and rebels in Lhok Nga, near a beach still littered with debris from the tragedy.

International human rights groups have accused the Indonesian military of widespread abuses in Aceh. The much smaller GAM force has also been accused of atrocities.

More than 10,000 people died in the province between 1976, when GAM began its independence struggle, and May, 2003, when the military began a fresh offensive against the rebels.

Since then the military says more than 1,000 rebels have died, though rights groups say many of the dead are civilians.

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