Mon, 03 Jan 2000

New Year party goes smoothly across nation

BANDA ACEH, Aceh (JP): New Year celebrations generally passed peacefully across the country, except for two fatal attacks on security personnel in the troubled province of Aceh over the weekend.

Second Sgt. Zulkifli, 35, a military officer, was killed on Saturday while Second Sgt. Zenda, 35, a policeman, died on Friday in separate armed assaults by unidentified groups in Pidie regency.

In between the incidents Aceh Police chief Brig. Gen. Bachrumsyah asked for people's forgiveness over harsh measures taken by security authorities, which he said were provoked by Free Aceh Movement (GAM) separatist group members.

"I apologize for what my men did in the field. I regret it but I did not wish such a thing to happen," Bachrumsyah said in his year-end statement on Friday.

He was referring to the rough acts of reprisal committed by security personnel, which included a forcible search of a village believed to be the harbor of rebels. The move frequently ended in arson attacks by the personnel.

Bachrumsyah admitted that to maintain security and order, the police took repressive measures instead of attempting self- defense.

"Don't take it the wrong way. Being repressive does not mean blindly shooting at people. It must be done according to the law."

At least 94 security personnel, 51 of them police officers, died and another 93 were injured while on duty in Aceh last year. Up to 25 others are still missing.

"All of the personnel were killed during attacks by armed gangs," Bachrumsyah said.

Police data recorded that 275 houses, along with 65 schools and government offices and 72 vehicles, were burned last year, resulting in up to Rp 26.5 billion in financial losses.

No less than 157 members of the armed gangs were arrested, 77 others were killed and 12 were injured during armed clashes with security authorities, according to Bachrumsyah. Dozens of guns, thousands of rounds of ammunition and 108 vehicles were seized from the groups.

Zulkifli of the Pidie military, died from severe stab wounds to his neck and stomach following an ambush by an group of unidentified men in Keudeu Gigieng of Simpangtiga district.

"We deeply regret the killing. How can they murder people especially during holy Ramadhan fasting month?" Pidie military chief Lt. Col. Iskandar said.

A day earlier, Zenda, was killed on his way to Friday prayers. He died instantly from stab wounds to the abdomen.

In Denpasar, Bali, three alleged thieves died when residents of Banjar Sebudi village along Jl. Dewa Madri went into a rage and assaulted them with various weapons just 30 minutes into the new year.

Exuberant celebrations across the island of paradise continued unperturbed as thousands of people thronged the streets, watching the once-in-a-lifetime parade of Ogoh-Ogoh (giant puppets) along with a music festival which was held during a traditional ceremony.

In Yogyakarta, a man died in a traffic accident and a pedicab driver named Sumarno, 23, lost his right foot in a massive firecracker blast at the front of the city's post office shortly after midnight on Saturday. Police are still searching for the owners of the firecrackers.

Thousands of partygoers crowded the streets across the sultanate town to watch a Barongsai dragon dance. Hotels in the area were fully booked.

A similar mood was witnessed in Semarang, the capital of Central Java.

In Surabaya, the capital of East Java and Makassar, the capital of South Sulawesi, student protests marred the millennium festivities.

Marching to their respective council buildings, the protesters demanded that President Abdurrahman Wahid and Vice President Megawati Soekarnoputri bring peace to the riot-torn provinces of Maluku and Aceh and send human rights violators to trial.

"We give them 100 days to solve those cases. If not, we will ask the House of Representatives and the People's Consultative Assembly for a special session to pass a vote of no confidence," Hasbi L., a student leader in Makassar, said. (27/44/51/edt/har/nur/zen)