Tue, 29 Jul 2003

Flying flags indicate success of Aceh mission

Nani Farida and Teriani ZB Simanjuntak, The Jakarta Post, Banda Aceh/Lhokseumawe

A House of Representatives delegation visited Aceh on Monday and was quick to judge the military operation in the province a success merely from the number of red and white flags they saw.

"There are far more red and white flags flying on Aceh soil. It's a stark contrast with the previous period," House Deputy Speaker Soetardjo Soerjogoeritno, who led the 15-strong delegation, told reporters in Banda Aceh.

A number of sources in the military have said that the government troops had pushed themselves hard to make as many national flags as possible fly across the province ahead of the celebration of anniversary of independence on Aug. 17.

The martial law administrator has ordered the Acehnese people to hoist the flag, although in some places where Free Aceh Movement (GAM) rebels prevail, the red and white flags are not visible.

Soetardjo said the growing number of Acehnese people who had pledged allegiance to the state was further evidence of the success of the joint operation.

He said people currently had the conscience to inform Indonesian troops on the whereabouts of GAM rebels.

The 15 legislators visited Aceh to get a first-hand account of what is going on in Aceh two months into the military operation.

Aside from the military operation, the legislators discussed problems that have plagued Aceh, including refugees, poor law enforcement and the poor running of the local government.

Meanwhile, Aceh martial law administrator Maj. Gen. Endang Suwarya judged the military operation a success due to the fact that people had resumed their normal activities.

He said GAM was already unable to control most of Aceh's territory, consequently life in Aceh was returning to normal.

"People are becoming less fearful about informing us on the whereabouts of GAM members," he said after receiving the legislators.

The lawmakers are scheduled to stay in Aceh until Tuesday. The Aceh martial administrator suggested on Monday they visit West and South Aceh regencies, so they can witness what is going on with the military and humanitarian operations there.

Among the visiting legislators are Permadi, Sabam Sirait, Astrid S. Susanto, Achmad Farhan Hamid and Abdul Qadir Djaelani.

Meanwhile, one soldier charged with theft may walk free, while another is facing seven months in jail for allegedly taking someone's belongings in a military raid.

Prosecutor Maj. Achmad Dandy told the court that no witness' deposition incriminated Second Sgt. Yulius Sitorus of Battalion 143 Lampung, but all evidence pointed to Second Pvt. M. Alam Sri as the perpetrator.

"We ask the court to drop the charges against the first defendant. Witnesses said that the second defendant was the only person who entered the victim's bedroom before she realized that as much as Rp 2 million (US$243) in cash and 26.5 grams of gold jewelry had gone," he said.

Under the Criminal Code, theft carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

The defendants were not detained, although existing laws stipulate detention for those accused of violating a law which carries a maximum penalty of four years in prison. The soldiers were merely suspended from active duty.

Presiding judge Maj. Trias Komara adjourned the trial until Wednesday to hear the defense plea.

The Indonesian Military (TNI) chief Gen. Endriartono Sutarto had earlier apologized to the Acehnese people who had lost their belongings during the integrated operation in the province.

The military court had previously found three soldiers guilty of raping four women and sentenced them to between two years and three years in jail.