Fri, 21 Mar 2003

JSC blamed over extortion in Aceh

Nani Farida, The Jakarta Post, Banda Aceh/Jakarta

Acehnese people have lambasted the Joint Security Committee (JSC) enforcing the cessation of hostilities agreement in Aceh, for its failure to stop the rampant extortion committed both by the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) and security personnel.

Jamil, a 59-year-old retired teacher, expressed his disappointment both with the Henry Dunant Centre facilitating the peace process and JSC, because although the Acehnese people had lodged hundreds of extortion cases to be followed up, none had been investigated thoroughly so far.

"We are disappointed because we hoped for too much from the HDC and JSC," he told The Jakarta Post on Thursday.

Jamil disclosed that GAM had imposed both legal and illegal levies upon the people to raise funds by force to support its personnel and logistics.

"GAM rebels collect taxes at night. Many people have been beaten for their failure to pay their taxes to GAM," he said, saying he had just paid Rp 300,000 in taxes to GAM.

He added that GAM had collected taxes since 1998.

Syaifuddin, a truck driver living in the city, backed up Jamil's story and said the extortion of drivers and bus owners was a common sight along the highway connecting Banda Aceh and Medan, the capital of North Sumatra.

"They take our money by force and intimidation, and those who refuse to hand over money are beaten with guns," he said.

Many groups of Acehnese people have staged several demonstrations already at the HDC and JSC headquarters in the city to protest these legal and illegal levies imposed on them.

On March 3, two JSC members were injured and three cars were burned in Takengon, Central Aceh, when hundreds of local people ran amok while protesting JSC's failure to follow up their reports on GAM's widespread extortion of residents in the regency.

Hundreds of residents of Timang Gajah, Central Aceh, are still taking refuge in a mosque in the city, and refuse to return to their home village following the unchecked extortion by security personnel deployed in the village.

Tengku Sofyan Ibrahim Tiba, representing GAM in the JSC, conceded that GAM had collected taxes from the people to purchase arms.

"If the Indonesian government is allowed to collect taxes from the people, we have the same authority to do so," he said.

He, however, said GAM would take action against those members who imposed illegal levies on the Acehnese.

Brig. Gen. Safzen Nurdin, representing the government in the JSC, admitted the involvement of security personnel in the extortion scheme, but said it was difficult to monitor since the activity was committed along the highway.

"The Indonesian Military leadership has ordered the chief of operations to restore security here and to take strong measures against security personnel taking money from the people," he said.

JSC Chairman Maj. Gen. Tanungsuk Tuvinan admitted that JSC did not have the authority to impose any strict action against both sides breaching the peace deal.

"It is very difficult for us to seek evidence on the extortion and the imposition of strict sanctions against those violating the agreement should be entrusted both to the military and GAM leadership," he said.