Tue, 10 Jun 2003

'Aceh humanitarian operation on tract'

The Jakarta Post, Banda Aceh, Aceh

The Aceh martial law administration is claiming that humanitarian efforts are making as much progress as its three-week military operation to flush out Free Aceh Movement (GAM) separatists.

However, civilians, especially traders, have to bear the brunt of the military operation in the province due to reduced business activities.

Martial law administrator Maj. Gen. Endang Suwarya told a press conference that 80 percent of the Rp 25 billion (US$3 million) allotted for humanitarian aid in Aceh had been disbursed to the provincial government.

Regencies had received between 70 percent to 80 percent of that amount, he said. Preparations to accommodate refugees were 50 percent complete.

Authorities had also began to repair or rebuild the more than 400 schools, which he said were burned by the rebels.

"In facing a war against guerrillas, winning the hearts and minds of the people is absolutely necessary," Endang said after a closed meeting with a delegation from the House of Representatives' Commission I overseeing security affairs.

His statement comes against the backdrop of alleged human rights abuses by soldiers. A military court on Monday sentenced three soldiers to four-months jail each for beating civilians during a raid late last month.

Most media have so far focused their reports on the military operation, one part of what the government calls a comprehensive operation that also covers humanitarian efforts and the strengthening of the rule of law and the local administration in Aceh.

Aceh Military Command spokesman Col. Ditya Soedarsono said the operation had resulted in 160 rebel deaths and 313 arrests. Thirteen soldiers had died.

Figures on civilian casualties are not available.

In the provincial capital Banda Aceh, the three weeks of war was, like for most Indonesians, frightening only on their television screens.

A number of residents said their lives were relatively normal but complained about a drop in business and fears of venturing outside at night.

"The war is outside in the regions," said Ifa, a 31-year-old shop owner.

She said the city's nightlife had disappeared since the imposition of martial law and most parts of the city were deserted by around 8 p.m.

"It's safer to stay at home at night, we don't want to pass random security checks."

Rajali, a motorized pedicab driver, known here as becak mesin, said a fear of traveling at night was costing him passengers.

"Before martial law I used to earn about Rp 50,000 to Rp 60,000. Now it's only around Rp 30,000 to Rp 20,000," he said.

He said he refused to take passengers to the outskirts of the city if it was already too late.