Tue, 08 Feb 2000

Aceh rights abuse suspect missing after vacation

JAKARTA (JP): Officials here revealed that the key missing witness in the prosecution of alleged human rights abuses in Aceh is actually a suspect who disappeared after obtaining permission to go on vacation.

Attorney General Marzuki Darusman on Monday identified the suspect as Lt. Col. Sudjono.

"(Sudjono) is a suspect and (his whereabouts) are still being investigated by the TNI (Indonesian Military) chief," Marzuki told reporters.

"(Sudjono) was here in Jakarta when he was being investigated, but when he was summoned, he disappeared," he added.

An independent commission investigating human rights abuses in Aceh identified Sudjono, by initials "Lt. Col. Sdjn," as among the officers allegedly involved in the murder of Islamic boarding school teacher Tengku Bantaqiah and dozens of students in West Aceh.

The lieutenant-colonel was listed as intelligence chief of the Lhokseumawe-based Lilawangsa military command.

Troops allegedly shot dead Bantaqiah, his wife, his students and dozens of farmers in an anti-rebel raid in the remote Beutong area, some 100 kilometers south of Lhokseumawe on July 23.

Local military officers maintain Bantaqiah and his students, believed to be allies of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), were killed in an exchange of fire.

Witnesses and the government-sanctioned inquiry said, however, that the killings were executed by military troops.

The Beutong shooting is among five human rights cases in Aceh focused on by the inquiry in its investigation of alleged human rights abuses in the restive province.

Military Police Chief Maj. Gen. Djasri Marin in December said the highest ranked officer among the suspects due to be tried in a joint military-civilian court was a lieutenant-colonel.

Minister of Human Rights Affairs Hasballah M. Saad said on Sunday the impending trial of rights abuses in Aceh, due to start later this month, is delayed due to the disappearance of a "key witness."

In Medan, North Sumatra, Bukit Barisan military command spokesman Lt. Col. Nurdin Sulistyo told The Jakarta Post on Monday that Sudjono had requested a 30-day leave to return to his hometown of Cirebon, West Java.

Nurdin has revealed that now, a week after the end of his vacation, Sudjono had not returned to his post in Lhokseumawe, Aceh.

Marzuki warned that those complicit in Sudjono's disappearance could be charged with a criminal offense.

Speaking about the delayed trial, Marzuki remarked that the government "must eventually make a decision to begin the trial with or without" Sudjono's presence. (01/39/byg)