Mon, 24 Apr 2000

Defense team asks TNI be absolved in Aceh killing

BANDA ACEH, Aceh (JP): Defense lawyers in the joint civilian- military trial here on Saturday demanded that the court acquit the defendants charged with mass killings in West Aceh last year.

The 90-minute session which ended at 11 a.m. heard the six- member defense team led by Col. Burhan Dahlan and Col. Tatang Maskur read their clients' rebuttal.

"The troops only carried out orders from their superiors and therefore did not commit any crime," Tatang said.

A total of 25 defendants, 24 military personnel and a civilian, are facing death sentence for the premeditated murder of noted Muslim leader Tengku Bantaqiah and no less than 57 of his followers in remote Beutong Ateuh village on July 23.

The six legal representatives, who took turns reading parts of their defense, said the responsibility for the killings should be on the shoulders of their commanders who ordered the operation.

According to the prosecutors' indictment, the order for the antirebel raid came from Lilawangsa Military Commander Col. Syafnil Armen following an intelligence report that Bantaqiah and his students possessed arms.

Syafnil, however, was not listed as a suspect in the murder, leaving the now missing Lt. Col. Sudjono, the highest ranked officer, to face charges. Sudjono disappeared November of last year.

"The soldiers had no other choice but to obey their superiors, otherwise their careers would have been jeopardized," the defense statement said.

The team insisted that the dossiers were incomplete.

The defense team also noted an obvious violation of Criminal Code Article 84 and 137, due to the fact that the trial is not being held at a courthouse in accordance with the principle of locus de licti (site of the incident) in West Aceh, but in Banda Aceh instead.

They also said that the prosecutors in the case have breached their authority by pronouncing two crime scenes.

"We are on trial for Bantaqiah case which took place only in Beutong Ateuh village, but the prosecutors have expanded it by also investigating the murders along the roads outside Beutong area to Takengon. This is legally objectionable.

"Therefore, the charges were legally unacceptable and the defense team demanded that the trial be canceled," Tatang said.

The trial was adjourned until Monday.

Security was tight during the hearing, with minor incidents of student protests outside the courthouse. Some 50 students supported the defense lawyers' claims that only soldiers of low rank would be punished instead of their superiors.


Explosions targeting government buildings again rocked the strife-torn province over the past few days.

Overnight grenade explosions hit the grounds of three government buildings and the office of the organizing committee of the Aceh People's Congress (KRA) in the city of Banda Aceh on Friday evening, but no casualties or damages were reported.

Banda Aceh was tense as security forces intensified patrols in the city after the attacks.

In South Aceh, an alleged armed gang member identified as M. Din, 27, was found dead in the bushes in Terbangan subdistrict near Tapak Tuan, late on Saturday after a gunfight between police and gunmen in the area.

Local police chief Lt. Col. Teuku Kemala said on Sunday Second Sgt. Adi Prasetyo was injured in the fray.

Also on Saturday night, an armed group threw grenades at Lhoksukon police post, 32 kilometers east of the North Aceh regency capital of Lhokseumawe.

On the same day, a civilian female worker of Samudra police post in North Aceh, Idayana, 32, also suffered from severe head wounds when she was shot by gunmen while riding an ojek motorcycle taxi. (50/51/edt)