Mon, 14 Jul 2003

Aceh gets 13 new district chiefs

Tertiani ZB Simanjuntak, The Jakarta Post, Banda Aceh, Aceh

The Indonesian Military will stamp its territorial control on the restive province of Aceh when 13 military officers are installed on Monday as new district chiefs in areas known as strongholds of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM).

The administration in those areas has long been abandoned during years of armed conflict in the province.

The districts are situated in the regencies of Pidie, Bireun, North Aceh, East Aceh, West Aceh, and Southwest Aceh. According to the martial law administration spokesman Col. Ditya Soedarsono, most of the 39,353 refugees are sheltered in those districts.

From a total of 223 districts in the province, only 140 of the districts are functioning, Ditya said on Sunday.

After 56 days of the joint operation to crush GAM rebels and supporters, tension remained high as two civilians were killed near their homes. The perpetrators remain unknown.

Bachtiar Musa, 58, a farmer of Dayah Panjoe hamlet, Bireuen regency, was found dead in a banana plantation only 50 meters from his backyard, with gunshot wounds to the head. Residents claimed they did not hear any gun shots.

Formerly a bus driver, Bachtiar talked to reporters on Saturday as a witness to an earlier armed conflict between the military and GAM.

The other dead body was found in Muara Tiga district in Pidie.

According to Ditya, GAM had also burned a relay station belonging to the state television TVRI at Bangkeh village, Geumpang district in Pidie on Sunday.

The joint forces of the Indonesian Military (TNI) and the National Police claimed to have killed five more GAM personnel and arrested five others on Sunday, bringing the total of rebels shot dead to 437 and separatists arrested to 345 since martial law was imposed in the province on May 19.

Separately in Pidie, an arrested GAM member admitted that there was still over 200 GAM personnel in Merdu district who possess a dozen AK-47 and M-16 rifles, as well as pistols and other types of automatic rifles.

Arrested on July 6 by patrolling police in Grung-grung hamlet, Meracan, in Merdu district, Razali, 37, who was suffering from asthma, claimed that he was forced to join GAM by its Meracan military commander Syaiful, who is a childhood friend.

"He said I could get between Rp 3,000 (around 23 US cents) and Rp 5,000 a week if I joined them. I needed the money to cover my medical treatment. But since I joined them in May, I only got Rp 8,000," he told reporters at Pidie Police station.

He further said that during the one-month initiation, he had undergone three trainings and had been included in two ambushes. "I was put in Bentara GAM (the police force of GAM's armed wing). I had a yellow uniform with an emblem on the right sleeve. But I was only allowed to use the uniform by Syaiful, who keeps all the uniforms, during the ambushes," he added.

Pidie Police chief Adj. Sr. Comr. Agus Malik said that the police would deploy 11 trucks of food supplies for the residents of the isolated Geumpang regency.

"They had run out of food because we could only send them supplies once a month because the road to access the regency is very dangerous, making us a sitting duck for GAM attacks," he told reporters.