Tue, 15 Aug 2000

Acehnese free to hoist flags: GAM chief

BANDA ACEH, Aceh (JP): With tension high following the fatal shooting of two students at state-run Syiah Kuala University on Monday, a Free Aceh Movement (GAM) commander said people in the province could fly the Indonesian flag on Independence Day on Aug. 17 if they wished.

"I neither suggest nor forbid the Acehnese from hoisting Indonesian flags," Tengku Abdullah Syafiie said at a GAM camp deep in the jungle in Jiem-Jiem, Pidie regency, North Aceh, on Sunday.

"I want to remind the Acehnese that Aug. 17 (1945) was the beginning of the Republic of Indonesia's colonization of Aceh," he said on the sidelines of a military training session for women soldiers.

"Therefore, I urge people to stay at home or in mosques from Aug. 15 to Aug. 17 and pray ... because these (two) days are damned days for Acehnese," he said.

People are fearing violence between security forces and GAM rebels if the national flag is raised on Thursday.

Aceh Police chief Brig. Gen. Doddy Sumantyawan said on Friday that all regions in Aceh were obliged to fly the national flag.

The provincial administration, however, came up with a softer line, saying that only "offices and government institutions" were obliged to raise flags.

The Aceh Referendum Information Center (SIRA) suggested a "middle path", urging people to raise UN and referendum flags, instead of the national pennant.

"We do not want more people to be sacrificed in conflict," SIRA's Muhammad Nazar said.

Tension was evident on Monday in North and East Aceh, as well as the provincial capital Banda Aceh, following violence since Sunday that left at least five people dead, including Syiah Kuala students Nasruddin M. Jamil, 25, and Lazuardi, 24, and almost 100 others injured.

"The (two) bodies were found (on Monday) at around 7:30 a.m. in Lampineung village in Banda Aceh. The (student's) motorbike went missing and witnesses said they heard gunshots around 2 a.m. Monday," Supt. Sayed Husaini of Aceh Besar Police said.

At least 54 people, including 11 military/police personnel, have been killed in Aceh since the humanitarian pause took effect here on June 2.

In Idi Rayeuk, East Aceh, activities came to a halt on Monday following the murder of a soldier named Pvt. Ahmad Ridwan Siagian and the serious wounding of Pvt. Tri Sugianto.

Police said two motorists stabbed the two soldiers and took away their SS-1 rifles near a market on Sunday.

The attack prompted an intense military search in the area for the assailants. More than 100 people were beaten up or suffered gunshots wounds while soldiers set the market on fire, residents said.

Three children, aged between eight and 12 years old, were among those with gunshot wounds and taken to a military hospital in the North Sumatra capital of Medan.

In North Aceh, two alleged GAM rebels, Ishak Sukon, 23 and Marzuki Yunus, 29, were shot dead when they ambushed a convoy of troops in Tanjong Meunjee on Sunday, local police chief Supt. Abadan Bangko said.

Missing activist

Abdullah also condemned the disappearance of New York-based International Forum for Aceh (IFA) activist Jafar Siddiq Hamzah.

"Jafar is not a GAM member. He's an activist who was strongly defending the Acehnese internationally.

"If only we were not in the humanitarian pause period, I would order my troops to blast away at all military bases in Aceh. This is their work," Abdullah said.

IFA has also written to President Abdurrahman Wahid, calling for a thorough investigation into the case, Antara said.

Bukit Barisan Military commander Maj. Gen. I Gde Purnawa said in Medan on Monday that his office had no plan to take any action in Jafar's case.

"We have no such plan. Just ask the North Sumatra Police chief for confirmation," he said.

On the upcoming gubernatorial elections in the province, Abdullah warned the provincial administration not "to meddle too much in political affairs during the humanitarian pause".

"I don't think such a political agenda is worth fighting for during this truce," he said.

Acting Aceh Governor Ramli Ridwan said recently he had lobbied GAM to hold smooth gubernatorial elections, which are scheduled for November.

Several names have been mentioned as prospective Aceh governors, including Ramli Ridwan, scholar and environmental activist Ahmad Humam Hamid, chief of Aceh's national education ministry office H.A. Malik Raden, secretary to the human rights ministry Iskandar Hoesin and businessman Abdullah Puteh. (39/50/51/edt)