Mon, 07 Feb 2000

Armed group attacks, sets fire to airport in Aceh

BANDA ACEH, Aceh (JP): An armed gang attacked and set fire to the terminal of Malikussaleh Airport, which serves the economically strategic Arun gasfields, about 45 kilometers west of Lhokseumawe, North Aceh, on Saturday night.

No fatalities were reported in the incident, which took place about 9 p.m. local time.

"Witnesses said five people started the fire, three of whom were carrying rifles," North Aceh Police chief Lt. Col. Syafei Aksal said on Sunday morning. Only unarmed security guards were present at the airport at the time of the incident, Syafei added.

Aksal said the five were dressed in military fatigues, adding that the attack was suspected to be the work of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM).

Two fire engines from nearby gas company PT Arun came to extinguish the fire but not before it gutted the departure terminal.

"The radar and all navigational equipment were saved but we don't know for sure whether the airport will resume operation," Syafei said, adding that security has been tightened around the compound to avoid further disputes.

Initial estimates of losses reach Rp 50 million.

The Malikussaleh Airport is a special air base located at the Pintoe Weu village, Muara Batu district. It is jointly managed by state oil company Pertamina and PT Arun.

The Arun gasfields are a major supplier of liquefied natural gas to countries like Japan and South Korea.

The 1,800-meter-long and 30-meter-wide runway is used to serve two regular flights, usually by Fokker-27 or DSA-7 airplanes, to the North Sumatra provincial capital of Medan each day.

Sources at the airport said on Sunday flights would be temporarily halted until further notice.


Meanwhile in the latest clash between GAM rebels and security forces, at least six gunfights were recorded in various locations in the restive province during the weekend.

A total of three alleged rebels were reportedly killed.

A joint operation of Marines, Army and police forces raided a suspected GAM base in Glee Panton Kulat village in Meurudu, Pidie, early on Sunday, killing the three rebels.

They were identified as M. Isa Usman, 40, Munir Ismail, 18 and Husaini, 28.

The engagement was part of the Sadar Rencong III operation which was launched last week.

The raid, which involved about 50 soldiers and police officers, began at about 5:30 a.m.

No exchange of fire occurred in the first two raids.

During the third raid, a 30-minute gunfight ensued.

Three suspected rebels and four local residents were hurt in the attack.

The three suspected rebels wounded were identified as M Nasir, Tarwirmi and Ikhwan. All are said to be villagers of Pasie Lembang, Kluet Selatan subdistrict.

The four civilians were Muslim, 50, Abu Duren, 42, Muhammad, 15, and Mawardi, 15, were hit by stray bullets and rushed to Dr. Yulidin Away Hospital.

After the raid several home-made rifles, 120 AK-47 bullets, 22 CIS bullets, two radios and machetes, and five motorcycles were confiscated.

Meanwhile in Pasi Lembang village, South Kluet district on Saturday, 10 suspected rebels were arrested when police raided three separatist bases.

Aceh remains gripped by sporadic clashes between security forces and rebels despite claims by the government that it was close to resolving the issue through negotiations. (50/51/edt)