Aceh authorities act to avert weekend mass rally
BANDA ACEH, Aceh (JP): At least one youth was killed and 17 others, including two police officers, were wounded when security troops opened fire to prevent Acehnese who had gathered from across the troubled province from entering the capital city for the weekend mass rally.
A witness, Zainal Arifin, said the police shot at a group of youths who were about to join other Banda Aceh-bound residents of Idi village in East Aceh.
"They were just unarmed teenagers," Zainal said.
Chief of East Aceh Police precinct Supt. Abdullah Hayati denied the arbitrary shooting, saying the group of youths were armed and initiated the skirmish with the police.
As of Wednesday, some 10,000 Idi residents, along with hundreds of trucks, were stranded in their village as police blocked traffic heading for the rally from the outlying districts of East Aceh and Pidie. Similar crowds were also seen massing in other areas, ready to move into Banda Aceh.
Another incident broke out in Langsa village near the East Aceh police station on Wednesday leaving a police officer and a resident of the village wounded.
Separately, two residents from Tangse village in the Pidie regency, some 150 kilometers from Banda Aceh, were injured when police prevented two truckloads of villagers from streaming into Banda Aceh.
The mass gathering is slated to be held on Saturday at the Baiturrahman Grand Mosque in Banda Aceh to commemorate the first anniversary of the public call for a referendum on self- determination for Aceh. A mass prayer will precede the rally on Friday, also in the mosque.
Some one million people gathered in and around the same mosque last year to demand the referendum. President Abdurrahman Wahid dismissed the call and instead vowed to precipitate the implementation of a special autonomy status for the natural resource-rich province.
Banda Aceh was reportedly calm on Wednesday, with no public operations in service and many traders closing their shops early.
Efforts to hamper Acehnese from joining the gathering went too far with witnesses saying that police also beat up two Syiah Kuala University students when they, along with their colleagues, innocently passed in front of the nearby Police Mobile Brigade unit office in Lingke village.
Barbed wire barricades have been set up in the streets of Banda Aceh and reinforcements have been dispatched along Krueng Aceh river as thousands of Acehnese are trying to reach the city by boat.
In his letter to the National Police Chief Gen. Surojo Bimantoro dated Nov. 8, head of the Indonesian Legal Aid and Human Rights Association (PBHI) Hendardi condemned the police's stern actions in preventing the Acehnese from attending the mass gathering.
In Jakarta, some 1,500 Acehnese living across Java staged a street rally on Wednesday, picketing the United Nations mission and later the United States and British embassies, to press for international intervention in Aceh. (50/lup/dja)