Top GAM guerrilla leader killed in clash

A top Free Aceh Movement (GAM) guerrilla leader was reported killed on Thursday following an armed clash between rebel forces and Indonesian military (TNI) personnel in East Aceh.

Lt. Col. Asep Sapari, a TNI spokesman in Aceh, said late on Friday that the man, whose remains are being held at a TNI outpost in the Peureulak area, East Aceh regency, was likely Ishak Daud, the high profile GAM commander in the Peureulak area.

If the report is true, then he will be the first senior GAM officer to have fallen since the TNI launched its massive military operation in Aceh in May of last year. "It is likely that the person is Ishak Daud," said Sapari, saying that the body had a burn scar on the right hand, as did Ishak.

Some residents in the Peureulak area, some 400 kilometers east of Banda Aceh, went further and confirmed that the dead person was indeed Ishak Daud.

The TNI, however, remained cautious and chose to wait for identification by family members before concluding that the person in question was Ishak Daud. "We are waiting for his family to identify him," Sapari said as quoted by Antara.

A source later said that the father-in-law of Ishak, Ismail Muda, had traveled to the TNI outpost late on Friday and confirmed that the dead man was Ishak.

The source said that Ismail had also confirmed that another body being held at the outpost was Ishak's wife, Cut Rostina.

The two were believed to have died, along with 11 other GAM members, after a firefight between TNI personnel and GAM members on Geulumpang Hill and near Babah Krueng Village in the Peureulak area, East Aceh regency on Thursday. The remains of all 11 GAM members had already been buried by local residents, except for the two bodies still being held by the TNI.

The TNI recovered 10 rifles following the incident, which began on Wednesday after TNI personnel discovered that a group of GAM members were in the Peureulak area. They finally intercepted the rebel group on Thursday, and immediately attacked. Sapari said that TNI personnel were still tracking down the remaining GAM members.

Separately, Teungku Kafrawi, a local GAM spokesman, confirmed that Ishak had been killed during the Peureulak gun battle. "Yes, we have lost our commander," Kafrawi said briefly.

Ishak became the TNI's most wanted GAM member after he and his group abducted a senior TV reporter, a cameraman and the wives of two TNI personnel last year in the Peureulak area. The TV reporter, Sory Ersa Siregar, was killed in December last year during a clash between TNI personnel and Ishak's group. The cameraman, Ferry Santoro, and the wives of the two TNI personnel were finally released later after protracted negotiations between Ishak, the TNI, the Indonesian Red Cross (PMI) and journalists' associations.

* Published by The Jakarta Post on November 9, 2004