Sat, 27 Sep 2003

Govt to release two stranded Australians

Nani Farida, The Jakarta Post, Banda Aceh, Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam

Indonesian authorities are expected to release on Saturday an Australian couple found stranded on the shores of Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam two days ago, pending an investigation into their entry into the war-torn province, officials said here on Friday.

"They had no plan to visit Aceh and they did not know there was a military operation underway," Imron Zubandi, a senior immigration official investigating the case, said on Friday.

He said that the Australians, Claire Susan, 58, and her husband John Humprey, 57, were sailing on a small ship to the Maldives from Langkawi, Malaysia, when they were caught in a storm and washed ashore in Aceh.

A preliminary investigation has revealed that the couple was indeed the victim of bad weather. Also, they had all the necessary travel and immigration documents, said Imron.

Imron said the Indonesian authorities were ready to let the couple go to sail into international waters.

"However, the decision on whether they will be released will be made on Saturday, pending the completion of the investigation," he said.

Security forces found the Australian couple by accident while on patrol on Nasi island on Thursday, the spokesman for the Aceh martial law administrator, Col. Ditya Soedarsono, said on Friday.

Ditya said a preliminary investigation by the military and immigration officers had found that the couple had not violated any laws. A storm forced the couple to steer their ship toward Nasi island for safety reasons.

However, the presence of the ship alarmed a group of military and police personnel who were patrolling the area in search of Free Aceh Movement (GAM) rebels.

The security forces brought the couple to the nearby Aceh Besar regency military command for questioning. The security personnel initially suspected the Australians had violated a decree issued by the Aceh martial law administrator banning foreigners from entering the province without first obtaining special permits from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights.

The government declared martial law in Aceh on May 19 to quell an armed separatist movement.

Claire Susan said that she and her husband were doing well and had done nothing wrong in Aceh.

"We just stopped in the wrong place and time," said Claire.

Meanwhile, Aceh military spokesman Lt. Col. Firdaus Komarno, said Clairse Susan also holds a Canadian passport, which immigration officers declared invalid.

On June 4, soldiers shot and killed German national Luther Hendrick Albert, 54, and wounded his companion Elizabeth Margareth, 49, after a villager reported suspicious movements behind his house in Lhok Gayo village, Teunom district, Aceh Jaya regency.

It was the first foreign casualty since martial law was declared in Aceh almost three weeks earlier, when the government warned foreign organizations and individuals against traveling to the province for security reasons.

Coordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said at the time the couple had been in Aceh since May 16 and had visited several places in the province, including Takengon, Pidie and West Aceh.

In a separate development, Indonesian Military troops found on Friday one grenade-launched mortar (GLM) and 10 kilograms of explosives during a raid in Syamtalira Bayu district, North Aceh.

Lt. Col. Ahmad Yani Basuki, spokesman for the TNI operation command in Lhokseumawe, said the GLM and the explosives belonged to GAM rebels.

Yani said TNI personnel were assisted by some 300 local residents in the raid.

Also on Friday, TNI claimed to have killed prominent rebel Adnan, 30, who was reportedly the head of GAM overseeing Kreung Teupin village, North Aceh.