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Amnesty International urges Indonesia to seek justice for victims of Aceh conflict

An international rights group urged Indonesian authorities on Thursday to seek justice for victims of a separatist conflict in Aceh province that ended with a peace agreement nearly eight years ago.

Amnesty International said in a report that Indonesian security forces killed, tortured and raped scores of civilians during the years of violence in the province on the northern tip of Sumatra island. It said victims and family members are still waiting for justice.

The group recommended that the government publicly acknowledge that widespread human rights abuses occurred and set up a commission to investigate. It also called for a formal apology and reparations for victims.

The government has never openly addressed human rights issues involved in an area that remains politically sensitive.

"It has contributed to a culture of impunity for the serious rights abuses committed during the conflict," Isabelle Arradon, Amnesty International's deputy Asia-Pacific director, said at a news conference in Jakarta.

"Not a single new case has been prosecuted since the 2005 peace deal," she said.

Aceh experienced almost constant fighting for more than a century. Violence intensified in 1976 between the Free Aceh Movement and government security forces, killing at least 15,000 people.

Efforts to end the civil war gained momentum after a massive earthquake struck in December 2004, triggering a tsunami in the Indian Ocean that killed 230,000 people, half of them in Aceh.

Under the peace agreement, the rebels gave up their long-held demand for independence and handed over their weapons. The government allowed them to participate in local politics and permitted the predominantly Muslim province to implement a version of Sharia law while enjoying semi-autonomy from the central government.

Last month, the Aceh Legislative Council passed a bylaw making the former rebel flag the province's official symbol. Thousands of Acehnese later took to the streets demanding that the central government approve it.

But President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said the move could be a setback for the peace deal. Talks to find a solution are being held by local and central authorities.