Fri, 18 Aug 2000

Independence Day passes peacefully across the country

JAKARTA (JP): People across the country, including those in troubled areas, marked the 55th Independence Day on Thursday with solemn ceremonies and traditional games.

No reports of violence were recorded. Groups of students rallied in Jakarta and Makassar, calling for further reforms and demanding that the political elite focus on ways to improve the country's economy and avoid national disintegration.

Several people in Aceh and Jakarta were detained by police for lowering national flags from poles.

In Maluku, some 3,000 Christian and Muslim locals cast aside their differences to salute Independence Day in the historical Merdeka field under tight security, calling for peace, following an overnight peaceful meeting between Maluku civil emergency administrators and seven representatives of Laskar Jihad Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jammaah (Jihad Force) led by Haris Mustafa at the governor's office on Wednesday morning.

The Indonesian Navy in North Maluku also tried to reconcile two warring groups in Galela and Tobelo districts on board the KRI Singa battleship on Wednesday, but failed when an explosion occurred at a house of a Jihad Force leader in Galela, an official Navy statement said.

"We will continue trying to facilitate the peace effort," Eastern Fleet security chief Commodore Djoko Sumaryono said.

During the ceremony in Ambon, at least nine armored vehicles guarded the 15,000-meter-square Merdeka field.

Authorities as well as local residents shed tears upon hearing the prayers of two 10-year-old children, a boy and a girl, who implored God for an end to the bloody conflicts.

"We want to ask God where lies our future, where are our families and friends ... we want our peace back.

"Why are the political elite playing with our lives? Please God, stop this. Why this is happening to our land?" the children prayed.

After the prays, Maluku Governor Saleh Latuconsina said the children's prayer was the wish of the Maluku people.

"This Independence Day is the starting point of the reconciliation effort for all of us. This message is meant especially to the warring camps. Don't be stubborn. Listen to your hearts," Latuconsina said.

Cries and tears broke out as residents from both warring camps embraced each other when the Sampe Jua song was played at the end of the ceremony.

A minor incident, however, took place shortly after the event ended at about 11:30 a.m. local time when hundreds of students from Jl. Soa Bali and Jl. Baru between Pohon Pule and Trikora areas pelted stones at passing vehicles, leaving a man named Herman Latuni severely injured.

The students were quickly dispersed by security troops.

Governor Latuconsina, Pattimurra Military commander Brig. Gen. I Made Yasa and Maluku Police chief Brig. Gen. Firman Gani went straight to Haruku island in Central Maluku regency on board the KM Mayang to mark Independence Day on the islands.

In Aceh, most activities were suspended on Thursday following widespread rumors of a possible clash between security authorities and rebels.

In the morning, some 6,000 people attended a flag-hoisting ceremony led by acting governor Ramli Ridwan at Blang Padang field in Banda Aceh capital.

Most of the streets were deserted.

"It's hard to find food as all shops are closed too," a local reporter said.

Public transportation owners from the neighboring North Sumatra capital of Medan reportedly have stopped operations until Friday.

A mosque in the Kandang area of Lhokseumawe was raided at about 1 p.m. by the police, North Aceh Police chief Supt. Abadan Bangko said.

"A total of 400 GLM bullets and a launcher along with 100 pairs of Malaysian-made boots and four sacks filled with combat fatigues were found on the roof of the mosque," Abadan said, adding that the police suspected the equipment belonged to Free Aceh Movement (GAM) troops.

Several people were arrested for pulling down flags in North Aceh and Bireun.

The quiet day was in contrast with Wednesday, when Aceh Besar Police seized hundreds of United Nations (UN) and Referendum flags hoisted in a protest held by some 5,000 students and civilians who gathered at Darussalam University campus, about seven kilometers northeast of the capital, in support of self- determination for the province.

Teuku Umar Military Commander Col. Syarifuddin Tippe, however, signaled on Thursday that it was possible that a state of civil emergency would to be imposed in Aceh if there was no extension of the humanitarian pause in the restive province.

"It is a fact that most of the administration activities in Aceh have been paralyzed following threats from GAM. There is also rampant disregard of the law and high crime rates."

Provincial council speaker Muhammad Yus, however, quickly disregarded Tippe's remark. "We don't want to talk about a civil emergency as it would only worsen conditions in Aceh. I'd go for the humanitarian pause to be expanded," he said.

In Irian Jaya, separatist leaders attended independence celebrations but residents defied the government and flew the secessionist flag across the territory, an activist was quoted by AFP as saying.

"In the towns of Wamena, Sorong and Serui residents only flew the Morning Star (separatist) flag at their homes," Timothius Tanem of the Institute of Human Rights said from the capital, Jayapura.

But a Wamena resident said that locals were indeed flying both the separatist and Indonesian flags.

In Yogyakarta, Independence Day was celebrated in a modest ceremony in the front yard of the Gedung Agung presidential palace led by Governor Sultan Hamengkubuwono X.

Similar celebrations were also held at government offices and schools.

The day was celebrated in various ways in villages, such as the staging of performances or bazaars.

On Wednesday night, most villages witnessed traditional tirakatan performances, or villagers stayed up late recalling what happened back in 1945 when Indonesia announced its independence.

A similar performance was also held at the governor's office compound in Kepatihan.

In Jakarta, dozens of tourists and expatriates added to the color of Aug. 17 when they gathered in front of Memories Cafe in the popular backpackers haven of Jl. Jaksa in Central Jakarta to take part in a series of games held by locals.

"This event is even better than politics," said one of the foreigners.

In South Jakarta, six protesting students were apprehended for insulting the red-and-white flag while protesting at the Attorney General's Office.

"The six students lowered the national flag to half-staff and were found to have drawn some other small flags with their group's names, acts which violate Article 154 of the Criminal Code," South Jakarta Police chief Sr. Supt. Edward Aritonang said.

The article carries a four-year prison sentence.

One of the students argued that their action was simply to prove that there was not yet any freedom in the country.

"Democratization has failed to meet optimum results as the military is still present in the legislature," he said.

As part of the annual tradition to mark Independence Day, the government granted sentence reductions to 23,680 prisoners in jails across the country, roughly 72 percent of Indonesia's 32,580 prisoners.

Last year, only 17,361 prisoners received sentence reductions.

"The reductions are given to lessen frustration among prisoners, which will also diminish security problems in prisons," Minister of Law and Legislation Yusril Ihza Mahendra said in a ceremony at Cipinang Penitentiary in East Jakarta.

In line with the sentence reductions, 2,739 prisoners will soon be released.

President Abdurrahman Wahid granted special sentence reductions to 69 prisoners who had been sentenced to life imprisonment, Yusril announced.

Based on the special reductions, the prisoners, most of whom have spent at least five years in jail, will now have to spend 20 years in jail. (39/49/50/51/41/edt/swa/lup/asa)