Thu, 04 May 2000

Military witnesses in Aceh trial defend shooting

BANDA ACEH, Aceh (JP): Three military witnesses testified on Wednesday that troops fired in self-defense after Islamic leader Tengku Bantaqiah and his followers attacked them in Beutong Ateuh village, West Aceh, last year.

Second Cpl. Jonny Effendi told a joint panel of civilian and military judges that he heard Bantaqiah had ordered the attack while the soldiers were conducting a search of the Babul Mukaromah Islamic boarding school belonging to the Muslim teacher.

"I heard Tengku Bantaqiah shout 'Pai, serbu' (attack) as the troops were preparing to check his and his followers' identity cards. Dozens of (Bantaqiah) followers then attacked the military personnel with knives and other sharp weapons," Jonny testified.

Jonny was a radio operator during the July 23 raid on the remote village, which resulted in the death of Bantaqiah and 57 of his students.

He insisted the operation was aimed at searching for 100 firearms allegedly kept by Bantaqiah and his followers.

Bantaqiah was a former political prisoner and a once prominent supporter of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), which has been waging a 25-year independence struggle. He was granted amnesty by the government a few months before he was killed.

Jonny said Capt. Anton Yuliantoro, the highest ranking officer to stand trial so far, shot three of Bantaqiah's disciples who tried to attack him with sharp weapons while soldiers were conducting the search.

"The three men chased and cornered Capt. Anton near the river edge. He then turned his back and fired warning shots," Jonny said.

The shooting prompted confusion and his (Anton's) subordinates started to fire on the other Bantaqiah followers, he said.

Two grenades exploded during the fighting, he said, but he did not know who threw them.

Another witness, First Lt. Heri Robert Morin also gave the same account. While Pvt. Suwenda recalled that he saw bodies scattered around the boarding school compound.

Presiding judge Ruslan Dahlan adjourned the trial until Thursday, and warned prosecutors they would only have until Saturday to present witnesses in the case.

Separately, students and activists in Banda Aceh marched along the main street of Jl. Diponegoro to the Pante Perak Bridge and gubernatorial office on Wednesday morning, to commemorate the killing of at least 60 civilians in Simpang KKA in North Aceh on May 3 last year. (50/edt)