Wed, 19 Mar 2003

Acehnese refugees seek safety assurances from HDC

Nani Farida, The Jakarta Post, Banda Aceh

Some 500 Acehnese taking refuge in Banda Aceh staged a demonstration on Tuesday demanding that the Henry Dunant Centre (HDC), which is facilitating the peace process in the province, give safety assurances for them to return home.

The refugees, who hail from villages in Takengon, Central Aceh, came to the city last Saturday saying they were the victims of intimidation by pro-Jakarta militiamen.

They refugees are refusing to go home unless the HDC assures them of their safety from intimidation by the militiamen.

In a pattern reminiscent of what happened in Indonesia's former East Timor province, many people in Aceh complain about frequent intimidation by militiamen, whom they accuse of being deployed by the local military to prevent the people from providing support to the rebels.

Jaliman, a resident of Timang Gajah in Central Aceh, said that he and the other refugees had been forced to flee due to the terror and intimidation being perpetrated by the militiamen.

"There are some 4,000 militiamen in the district and one of them is my younger brother," he told The Jakarta Post.

He said he had no home to live in anymore as his house had been burned down by the militia.

He explained that the pro-Jakarta militia had burned down at least 70 houses belonging to locals.

Safrizal, another resident of Timang Gajah, concurred and said the militia was set up by migrants in 1999 to help the local military quell the separatist movement.

The refugees called on the HDC to reactivate its peace mission in Central Aceh and to investigate the activities of the militia.

The tripartite monitoring team's office in Takengon was damaged when hundreds of people, mostly transmigrants and militiamen, staged a demonstration on March 3 ostensibly demanding that the HDC deal with all complaints on violations of the peace accord and alleged extortion by rebels in the regency. The demonstration turned violent, with the demonstrators throwing stones at the monitoring team's offices and burning three cars. Two members of the monitoring team were injured in the incident.

The local military and GAM have traded accusations regarding responsibility for the incident.

Predictably, the military has several times denied any involvement in the incident and insisted that it is strongly committed to ending the conflict and creating peace in the province.

Safrizal and Jaliman said they understand why the HDC might be reluctant to reopen its office in Takengon for the time being.

Maj. Eddy Fernandy, a spokesman for the military's Aceh security restoration operation, admitted the presence of armed civilians in the regency but said they were not militiamen.

They hate GAM but they are not militia, he insisted.