Fri, 05 Dec 2003

GAM violently defies ban on anniversary observance

Nani Farida and Teuku Agam Muzakkir, The Jakarta Post, Banda Aceh/Lhokseumawe

Celebrations marking the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) anniversary proceeded in the province on Thursday despite the heavy military presence there to prevent the observance.

Efforts to deny GAM members a chance to commemorate the self- proclaimed independence by the movement's founders 27 years ago left two Army's Special Forces (Kopassus) soldiers seriously wounded during an armed clash in the hilly Siron area in Aceh Besar regency.

The military also deployed dozens of troops equipped with mortars and armored vehicles to Nissam area in North Aceh, which was once known as the base of GAM commander-in-chief Muzakkir Manaf.

Soldiers lowered separatist flags hoisted in coconut trees in the eastern part of Sigli district in Pidie regency, one GAM flag in Lhokseumawe and several others in East and South Aceh regencies.

Police joined the military operation to prevent the celebration and to maintain security by deploying at least 1,500 personnel who patrolled suspected GAM strongholds.

In several hamlets, GAM, nevertheless, tried to hoist the separatist Crescent-Star flags. At least three flags were hoisted. But the military lowered the flags immediately after receiving reports from locals.

Except for several gunfights between government troops and GAM rebels, the situation remained calm across the province. Traders continued their business as shops were open and public transportation was operating.

In South Aceh, a firefight between the Indonesian Military and GAM fighters took place, resulting in the death of Second Pvt. Yaser Arafat.

Aceh military operation spokesman Lt. Col. Ahmad Yani Basuki claimed three GAM rebels were shot dead and four others were arrested during a raid in Tanah Luas subdistrict in North Aceh.

In another raid in Bireum Bayeun area in East Aceh, three GAM fighters were killed, while another one was killed during a raid in Seunobok village, East Aceh regency.

Despite the attacks, GAM claimed to have held ceremonies almost simultaneously at around 8 a.m. in separate undisclosed locations across East Aceh and Sabang.

"Due to the situation, we only held a modest flag-hoisting ceremony," Teungku Zainal Abidin, GAM spokesman overseeing Sabang and Aceh islands region, said.

The celebration took place separately at three locations -- Idi Rayeuk, Simpang Ulim and Peureulak, with Teungku Ishak Daud leading an observance in Peureulak, Teungku Mansor, GAM spokesman for East Aceh regency, said.

Nearly 1,000 GAM fighters in the region took part in the celebration, Abidin said,

In a release made available to The Jakarta Post, Muzakkir asked all GAM members to remain on alert and maintain discipline.

Meanwhile the military encouraged people to fight the rebels. As of Thursday, around 7,000 members of the People's Front Against Separatist GAM (FPSG), gathered in Bireuen regency and burned GAM flags and two replicas of GAM founder Hassan Tiro who is now in self exile in Sweden.

The rally was an expression of the people's anger toward GAM who had brought the Acehnese to poverty, the group said in its statement.