Sat, 08 Mar 2003

Military involved in Aceh's Takengon incident: Kontras

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

A fact-finding team of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) have discovered that the local military was allegedly involved in the recent attack on the office of the Aceh peace monitoring team in Takengon, Central Aceh.

The military, however, denied the allegation and described the Kontras report as "absolute rubbish".

According to the team's report, released to the press in Banda Aceh on Friday, some Army soldiers as well as trained militiamen were among the angry mob who launched the attack on the monitoring team's office.

The monitoring team is part of the Joint Security Committee (JSC), a tripartite body supervising the implementation of the cessation of hostilities agreement signed by the Indonesian government and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) in Geneva on Dec. 9, 2002, to end the 26-year conflict.

According to the report, the local military had prepared some 500 militiamen, several of whom were believed to be members of the Army's Strategic Reserves Command (Kostrad), in Bukit regency of Takengon, Central Aceh, around 8:30 a.m., and transported them under security escort to join some 2,500 civilians from Bandar district in the Buntul Kubu area.

"Thousands of civilians, along with the militiamen and soldiers, staged a protest in front the JSC office while yelling for the dissolution of the Committee, which they accused of unfairness in handling their complaints on GAM's violations of the peace agreement.

"Four JSC members -- one from Indonesia, one from Thailand and two from GAM -- tried to negotiate with the angry mob and held a dialog at Meusara Alun field in Blang Kolak, one kilometer from the JSC office. JSC members, at the time, were being guarded by five TNI soldiers from Kostrad's 431 battalion and dozens of Mobile Brigade personnel," the report said.

The dialog turned violent when protesters attacked the JSC members and torched a car belonging to the JSC, the report said.

"In efforts to stop the violence, several soldiers fired warning shots while giving a signal to protesters to go on with their action. A police personnel even drove the protesters closer to the building and JSC members," the report said.

A Thai member of the monitoring team was injured, the GAM flag was burned and a JSC car was torched.

The situation remained tense until the angry mob dispersed at around 14:00 p.m.

According to the report, some 400 of 3,000 protesters were militiamen who had been trained and armed by the military. They were living in the villages of Pondok Kresek and Pondok Sayur in Bukit regency, and the villages of Pondok Gajah and Pondok Baru in Bandar regency, all in Central Aceh, the report said.

GAM has accused militiamen and the local military of being behind the violent protest.

Several witnesses said that militiamen were actually responsible for the incident, including the attack on the monitoring team's members. The report also said that a day before the incident, militiamen had intimidated the locals to join the protest, otherwise they would be blacklisted as GAM supporters.

Central Aceh is one of several regencies which have proposed the formation of a new province to prevent the whole province from being influenced by the separatism issue.

Meanwhile, Aceh military spokesman Lt. Col. Firdaus Komarno described the Kontras report as "absolute rubbish."

"The Indonesian Military did not engineer that incident. The accusation of a military-trained militia is nonsense. It is untrue," Komarno said.

He blamed the attack on "an accumulation" of disappointment by local residents over continuing extortion by GAM.

"But if the public want to fight GAM...should we stop them?" the military spokesman said.

Separately, Komarno said residents have found the severely tortured bodies of two men who were abducted near Takengon hours after the office attack.

Komarno said that, based on witnesses and preliminary investigations, GAM was responsible for the abduction. Some witnesses even saw the abductors taking turns raping one of the men's wives, he said.

GAM could not immediately be reached for comment.

An estimated 10,000 people have been killed in the 26-year conflict in the province on the northern tip of Sumatra island.

The number of killings has fallen greatly since the peace pact, the first to be monitored by foreign observers, came into force.

In Jakarta, 54 Aceh clerics called on the Indonesian government to stick to the peace accord and support the Henry Dunant Centre in facilitating peace in the province.

They also warned of a possible breakdown of the peace accord, since both the military and GAM had misinterpreted it in favor of their own interests.