Fri, 05 Sep 2003

'108 Acehnese have vanished'

Nani Farida and Fabiola Desy Unidjaja, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

At least 108 people have gone missing in Aceh since the government launched its integrated operation in the troubled province on May 19, a police officer says.

Aceh police spokesman Sr. Comr. Sayed Husaeny said on Thursday that those who went missing, believed to have been kidnapped by members of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), were civil servants and village heads.

"We have received the information from the local people," Sayed told The Jakarta Post on Thursday.

Sayed said that of the 108 people, 30 were from West Aceh, five from Aceh Besar, 16 from Central Aceh, 12 from East Aceh, 21 from North Aceh, nine from Pidie regency, and 13 from South Aceh.

"I have no information yet as to how many of them are dead, because people usually file a report when someone has gone missing, not when they find them dead," he said.

Among the missing are the two reporters of private television station RCTI, who were kidnapped by GAM in late June on their way to Lhokseumawe, North Aceh.

Sayed said four bus passengers traveling from Langsa to Lhokseumawe were kidnapped by GAM last Thursday.

"Their fate is still unknown," said military operation spokesman Lt. Col. Ahmad Yani.

The four, according to Yani, were taken by GAM to Paya Gajah village in Peureulak, East Aceh.

At least two GAM rebels and one paramilitary Mobile Brigade (Brimob) officer were killed on Thursday during a skirmish in Blang Leout village, Aceh Besar.

The two GAM rebels were identified as M. Husen bin Abdul Manaf, 25, and Muslem bin Abu Bakar, 25, while the police officer was identified as First Pvt. Alex Mariadi. His body was flown on Thursday to Padang, West Sumatra.

Sayed said the conflict flared up when Mobile Brigade members besieged a house in the Leupung area.

"We received information from local people about the presence of several GAM members in that area. The skirmish broke out when police surrounded the suspected house."

At least 16 police officers have been killed and over 60 others injured since the government launched the operation to crush the GAM rebels from Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam, where they have been fighting for independence for the resource-rich province since 1976.

The Indonesian Military (TNI), which deployed 35,000 troops to Aceh, has lost almost 800 soldiers in the war aimed at ending the decades-long rebellion.

Coordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said earlier that government troops had managed to incapacitate at least 35 percent of GAM's 5,000-strong guerrilla force in the past three months.

In Jakarta, the government hinted yesterday that it might keep its massive armed force in Aceh for as long as needed to secure the province.

Susilo said the government had never set a timetable for the Aceh war, and that "The martial law will be applied for six months and can be extended if needed. We have to ensure that the operation proceeds effectively."

The top security minister underlined that there was no immediate plan to downgrade the status of the security alert in the province.

"We have to maintain the momentum toward a more secure condition in Aceh," he said.