Tue, 08 Aug 2000

GAM commander emerges from hiding, calls for end to unrest

BANDA ACEH, Aceh (JP): The armed wing commander of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), Tengku Abdullah Syafiie, made his first public appearance on Sunday after months of hiding, calling for his followers to "support Aceh independence through a diplomatic struggle rather than putting up a war".

Attired in a military-style uniform, Abdullah addressed the closing of GAM's training at its base in a remote village deep in a jungle in the Nila area of restive Pidie regency.

Attended by about 1,500 people, 500 of whom were GAM troops, Sunday's gathering showed a significant shift of stance from the hard-line rebel separatists.

"Now Aceh's struggle for independence no longer depends on guns or wars but more on diplomatic and political efforts," Abdullah told the gathering.

"We're half way to Aceh freedom with the signing of the humanitarian pause in Geneva (on May 12)," he added.

The renowned commander also told the assembly of 500 troops that he would not arm them again with weapons, except for commanders in the field.

Abdullah warned his personnel not to smear GAM's image by committing actions, such as extortion, abduction or killings, that would hurt the people.

Approximately 1,000 nearby residents, within a radius of 500 meters from the site and including local community leaders, were invited to the ceremony under the tight guard of the GAM troops.

Physical training for GAM personnel was held in an open field the size of a soccer field, complete with military-style equipment.

Immediately after the two-hour ceremony and lunch ended, Abdullah went straight to his hiding place in a jeep.

"Abdullah looks healthy and is very kind to the people, as usual," a local journalist, who witnessed the ceremony, said.


Meanwhile, in Switzerland, Indonesian and GAM representatives are "strongly inclined" to extend a truce accord past a Sept. 2 deadline, the two sides said on Monday.

Both parties, who held closed-door talks near Geneva on Saturday and Sunday, said in a joint statement that a decision on whether to extend the humanitarian pause would be made before the end of this month.

Jakarta and GAM previously signed the three-month humanitarian pause accord in Geneva on May 12. It came into effect in Aceh on June 2.

"In the meeting, the Indonesian government also stuck to the fact that there would be no withdrawal of security troops from Aceh," government representative Hassan Wirajuda said in a statement.

Violence, however, continued to rock Aceh as three people were killed during separate conflicts in North Aceh on Saturday and Sunday.

Police said two alleged rebels of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), killed in a gun fight in Syamtalira Bayu district, were identified as Ali Murtala, 18 and Bakhtiar, 20.

On Sunday at noon, an alleged gunman named Muhammad Yusuf of Kutamakmur district in North Aceh was also shot to death during a police sweeping operation, newly appointed North Aceh Police chief Supt. Abadan Bangko said on Monday.

GAM's Abu Sofyan Daud, however, denied the incidents and said the three victims were unarmed when killed by the troops.

The incidents have brought the death toll in Aceh to 38 since the implementation of the pause on June 2, while approximately 50,000 others have fled their homes.

Separately, it was reported that chief of the New York-based International Forum for Aceh (IFA) and prominent Aceh figure Jafar Sidik Hamzah went missing from his house in Medan, capital of neighboring North Sumatra province.

His relatives said the last contact was made on Saturday.

"He usually calls every two hours but we haven't heard from him since," a relative of Jafar's, who requested anonymity, said on Monday.

Jafar was in Banda Aceh on July 22 to attend a seminar on human rights and had visited his relatives in Aceh and Medan before his disappearance. (50/edt)