Hunt for Acehnese rebels goes on
JAKARTA (JP): National Police chief Lt. Gen. Rusdihardjo said on Tuesday that the sweep for Acehnese separatists would continue despite reported abuses of civilians.
Rusdihardjo defended the treatment of civilians by Mobile Brigade (Brimob) special police troops on Friday, only a day after acting State Secretary Bondan Gunawan met with Free Aceh Movement (GAM) military commander Tengku Abdullah Syafi'ie in Gleumpang Tiga district in Pidie, about 100 kilometers east of the provincial capital Banda Aceh.
"Brimob officers who conducted the sweep did not make a mistake. It was just a misunderstanding. I will find out what really happened," Rusdihardjo said at the Police Academy in South Jakarta.
He said the police troops did not aim to mar the historic meeting between Bondan and Syafi'ie, but were searching for rebels.
But he conceded the search was ill-timed.
"The operation should not have been conducted directly after the meeting. They did not ask for permission from their superiors."
There were conflicting statements among government officials on the treatment of villagers living near the area where Bondan and Syafi'ie met.
Quoting witnesses, State Minister of Human Rights Hasballah M. Saad, who is Acehnese, said on Monday there was abuse of civilians. But Minister of Defense Juwono Sudarsono, denied there was an attack, but said the President had ordered Minister of Home Affairs Surjadi Soedirdja to investigate the incident.
Hasballah said the abuse was "a betrayal" of the Acehnese who were invited to the peace talks.
On Tuesday morning, an antirebel raid jointly conducted by the police and military in Mutiara district in Pidie left a local resident, identified as Ismail, 35, dead.
A staff member at Sigli General Hospital said that Ismail suffered gunshot wounds to the chest.
The fatality brings the death toll to 12 since the historic meeting last Thursday. The Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) reported last week the conflict in Aceh has claimed at least 230 lives, most of them civilians, in the past three months.
The dead included two Mobile Brigade troops, Pvt. Rahmad Hidayat and Pvt. Marwah, who were killed in a gunfight in Jeumpa- Peusangan district, North Aceh, on Sunday.
President Abdurrahman Wahid renewed his call for peace by extending an offer to GAM members to join the Indonesian Military (TNI).
"GAM could join TNI if peace returns and they pass the tests," Abdurrahman said on Tuesday in a gathering with about 1,000 marines at the corps' headquarters in Cilandak, South Jakarta.
Abdurrahman said the government would continue peace talks with the Acehnese rebels and told the marines to help the government's efforts.
He said he received reports on the killing of the two Brimob troops on Sunday and the fatal attack on six marines on Jan. 24 this year.
"I understand how you feel, but let's search for the offenders and bring them to justice," the President said.
Accompanying the President were First Lady Sinta Nuriyah, Vice President Megawati Soekarnoputri and her husband Taufik Kiemas, TNI chief Adm. Widodo A.S. and Navy Chief of Staff Adm. Achmad Soetjipto.
Marines commander Maj. Gen. Harry Triono said the corps personnel would be expanded to 20,000 in five years from its present figure of 13,000. (50/51/ylt/prb/edt)