Sat, 16 Dec 2000

Aceh military post attacked, soldiers nabbed

BANDA ACEH, Aceh (JP): Alleged separatist rebels of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) stormed a Military Subdistrict Command headquarters in Montasiek district, Aceh Besar, on Friday, and kidnapped four soldiers.

Police Special Operation Cinta Meunasah spokesman Sr. Supt. Kusbini Imbar said the fate of the four Army soldiers remains unknown.

According to Kusbini, the mob gathered when soldiers were out performing Friday Prayers at a nearby mosque. Only four soldiers stayed at the command compound, situated some 20-kilometers east of Banda Aceh.

He said the attackers also seized several firearms before making their escape, however police have yet to receive reports on the identities of the soldiers and the number of missing weapons.

"We have sent security officers to the location to try and track them down," Kusbini said.

Separately, Aceh Besar Military District Command Lt. Col. Ferdinand Setiawan also confirmed the attack and said troops were being deployed to find the perpetrators.

But the GAM commander in Aceh Besar, Ayah Muni, denied that his forces were involved in the attack.

In a separate development, Aceh Police chief Brig. Gen. Chaerul R. Rasyidi said on Friday that police are currently questioning a civilian and have arrested three security personnel, allegedly implicated in the killing of a resident and three activists of the Rehabilitation Action for Torture Victims in Aceh (RATA).

Chaerul, however, refused to identify them.

Meanwhile in Jakarta, a spokesman confirmed on Friday that President Abdurrahman Wahid would not declare the use of Islamic law in Aceh during a one-day visit to the troubled province on Tuesday.

"No, it is the Acehnese people through their provincial council who should take the initiative," Presidential spokesman Wimar Witoelar said when asked whether Abdurrahman would impose Islamic shariah law in the province.

Wimar was speaking at a press conference at Halim Perdanakusumah airport upon Abdurrahman's arrival from a two-day visit to Bangkok.

Aceh Governor Abdullah Puteh claimed last week that during the visit, Abdurrahman is scheduled to announce the application of Islamic law in the province.

He also said the President is scheduled to witness a ceremony to mark the handover of government funds worth Rp 100 billion for the Aceh economic recovery program.

However, Defense Minister Mahfud M.D on Thursday said that it was unnecessary to declare Islamic law as it has already been stipulated in the 1999 law on Aceh.

Wimar admitted on Friday that Abdurrahman "has no specific agenda" during the Aceh visit and said the visit "is mainly aimed at demonstrating the President's support for the Acehnese".

"The President is going there to demonstrate that he is on the Aceh people's side. He wants to continue to find a solution to the Aceh problem, working alongside the Acehnese," Wimar said.

Calls for a referendum on self-determination have been on the rise in Aceh, but Jakarta has ruled out independence and pledged broad autonomy for the province.

Abdurrahman has repeatedly said that Jakarta would place more emphasis on negotiations with the Acehnese to seek solutions to the Aceh problem.

Top security ministers and army generals seem to be running out of patience with the approach, however, saying that "there is a limit to dialog".

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Endriartono Sutarto was frank on Friday saying that "it is about time the military should play a role" in Aceh.

Speaking to reporters after presiding over a military ceremony in Semarang, Central Java, Endriartono said police were not properly trained to combat guerrilla warfare waged by members of the separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM) in the troubled province.

He said, however, that military operations in Aceh should only be the last resort.(02/byg/50/lup)