Indonesia's armed forces claimed a major victory yesterday with the killing of the commander of the Acehnese separatist rebels, Abdullah Syafei. Troops said they shot Syafei in the chest during a raid on the jungle headquarters of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM). GAM has yet to confirm the killing. Soldiers brought a body with gunshot wounds into a local hospital and 'everyone says it is Abdullah Syafei', one hospital worker said. An Acehnese activist in Jakarta said some doubt about the claim must remain until independent verification was available. He recalled an occasion on which the military claimed to have badly wounded Syafei, only for Syafei to appear in front of the press later. Syafei's death would be a blow to the morale of the rebel movement but might not have any impact on its operational capability in the field. GAM is not a united group. Different gangs of Acehnese gunmen control different parts of the war-strewn provinces which make up the autonomous region of Aceh, often fighting over local commodity trades as much as the desire for a separate state. Syafei's importance lies in his high profile as the most vocal figure from the rebel force which has been fighting Indonesian soldiers for decades. He often argued that the Javanese had only replaced the Dutch as colonialists in Aceh and boldly claimed Aceh was already independent and need not heed Jakarta. It is Syafei who has hosted many of the journalists visiting his rebel hideout, and who has overseen set-piece displays of GAM troops, especially women, and their weaponry. Frequently on television, it was not hard to know where Syafei was - raising the question of why troops have chosen now to attack him. One analyst suggested it may be intended to strengthen the military's argument to revive a special military command for Aceh. The Government has approved the plan but opposition to it remains intense from rights activists and international monitors. The death toll is rising every day in Aceh, and seven others were reported killed in the Tuesday raid on the GAM base. The armed forces are expected to use the killings as evidence of their superiority to the police in the war against the rebels. But rights activists say increased military action in Aceh will only prolong the conflict and render hollow the Government's occasional promises of peaceful dialogue.