Wed, 21 May 2003

Medan tightens security on fears of GAM terror strike

Apriadi Gunawan, The Jakarta Post, Medan, North Sumatra

Having experienced a series of blasts allegedly linked to Acehnese rebels, the North Sumatra capital Medan is tightening security to avert new bombings in response to the war in Aceh.

Under the Medan Comprehensive Security Operation, Medan hopes to prevent and detect bomb threats possibly tied to the Free Aceh Movement (GAM).

The operation will involve the city administration, the police, the local military, as well as Medan's traffic office, said Medan Mayor Abdillah on Tuesday.

He said he hoped the tighter security measures would prevent the war in the neighboring province of Aceh from spilling over to Medan.

"People here should not worry anymore about terror threats from GAM," he assured. "They (people) can proceed with their normal activities however they should increase coordination with security officials."

Police and soldiers deployed along the border of East Aceh are already inspecting vehicles entering North Sumatra, in an attempt to prevent smuggling of weapons or explosive materials.

A bomb exploded in the parking lot of the Medan mayor's office on March 31. Another went off at a gas pipeline facility owned by the state oil and gas company Pertamina near Deli seaport on April 1.

Police here believe the attacks were the work of a GAM terror cell operating in Medan. They said that several suspects they arrested were members of GAM.

Among them is the alleged GAM commander Abdul Wahab who police claimed made a confession that 40 of his men were still in the city and ready to strike again at anytime.

Abdul is allegedly in charge of GAM's operations in the North Sumatra regency of Deli and in Medan.

But GAM leaders in Aceh have denied the allegations, including suspicion of its involvement in the bomb blast at Jakarta's Soekarno-Hatta International Airport that injured 11 people last month.

The Aceh-based GAM leaders said the charges were leveled merely to discredit the movement, and emphasized that the group had no operations outside the province.

Nevertheless, fear of more attacks has risen since Jakarta launched a a new war in Aceh on Sunday. A surge of refugees from Aceh into North Sumatra has raised concerns of an infiltration of GAM members.

Medan Police Chief Adj. Sr. Comr. Bagus Kurniawan said that police would closely monitor the movements of refugees.

The city administration has prepared five refugee camps for civilians who flee Aceh for the relative safety of Medan and security at these camps would be handled by the police, said mayor Abdillah.