Human Rights Watch today released an eyewitness account of the December 6 execution-style murders of three humanitarian workers, all from the Lhokseumawe area of Aceh in Indonesia.

Interviewed by Human Rights Watch as he was being escorted to safety, the twenty-two-year old eyewitness described in harrowing detail a more than three-hour ordeal in which the workers were abducted by a group of fifteen men, interrogated, beaten with rifle butts, driven around to two military command posts, tied up, and finally shot at point-blank range. One of their captors filmed the executions with a videocamera. Three bodies were subsequently discovered at the site. The fate of a fourth man, a villager abducted together with the aid workers, is not known.

According to the witness, the man who ordered the killings was a well-known "cuak," or informer for the army, named Ampon Thayeb, who has worked with the Indonesian military in the Lhokseumawe area for more than a decade. He was accompanied in the operation by three other Acehnese, and at least ten other men in civilian clothes, all carrying sophisticated automatic rifles, who appeared to be soldiers and who got out of their vehicles briefly at the two army posts before proceeding to the execution site. One of the ten was referred to as "dan," short for commander, and Ampon sought instructions from him as to where the workers should be killed.

"This is one of the rare cases in Aceh in which a victim has come forward and publicly identified the perpetrator," said Joe Saunders, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch. "Residents of Lhokseumawe told us he has been terrorizing the area for more than a decade. The Indonesian government can have no excuse for failing to arrest and prosecute Ampon Thayeb and his army backers."

As the eyewitness account makes clear, Ampon killed the humanitarian workers because they were treating torture victims in an area known as a stronghold of the Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka or GAM) and assumed they were all GAM supporters. Three of those killed worked for Rehabilitation Action for Torture Victims in Aceh (RATA), a non-governmental organization (NGO) linked to the internationally known International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims, based in Denmark.

The surviving witness said Ampon ordered two of the workers, Idris and Ernita, out of the vehicle in which they were all being held. The witness then watched, horrified, as the two were shot. He and two others were ordered out of the same van, but he had managed to untie his hands, and as soon as he had both feet on the ground, he ran for his life. He heard two shots as he was running, and assumes that the other two were killed in the same manner as the first. He escaped with just a cut lip and bruises from being beaten.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have called for an investigation into the killings and for international monitoring of any investigation by Jakarta-based embassies or by a donor delegation to Aceh. Human Rights Watch today called on Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid to invite U.N. specialists on torture, arbitrary execution, and human rights defenders to conduct an independent assessment of rights abuses in the conflict-torn province. It also said that Exxon-Mobil and other foreign companies operating government-owned facilities in Aceh should publicly and privately call for an independent investigation of the murders, and assure the local Acehnese population that the companies will not cooperate with any units of the Indonesian security forces shown to have been involved in these killings or previous extrajudicial executions in Aceh.