Fri, 23 May 2003

Raids give Acehnese the jitters

Bambang Nurbianto, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The raids conducted by the city police and city officials against alleged members of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) in the capital have caused anxiety among the Acehnese here.

A number of Acehnese people who live in the capital expressed fear and concern about the raids and most of them refused to be interviewed as they were afraid that their comments could get them in trouble.

The police said on Wednesday they had started to raid rented houses that may be used as hideouts by GAM members. But the Acehnese warned that the policy should be cautiously implemented, otherwise it would instill fear in the Acehnese community in Jakarta.

"What fears me most is that security officers may carry out their task indiscriminately, that they may not distinguish between GAM members and other people in the Acehnese community. If that is the case, the Acehnese people will be terrorized," Lukman Nanda, an Acehnese who works as a street vendor in Blok M, South Jakarta, told The Jakarta Post on Thursday.

Lukman, who left his hometown in South Aceh in 1996, said that he did not mind the policy as long as the target was only GAM members.

Lukman was among the few Acehnese people who were willing to comment on the issue. Many others preferred to remain tightlipped on any issues in connection with the military operation, saying that any comment might land them in trouble.

If they commented, they stressed that their names should not appear in the newspapers as they fear that something may befall them or their families.

An Acehnese businessman, who was also speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that the danger for Acehnese who make "wrong comments" may come both from the security officers and from GAM members here.

"Therefore, it is better not to make any comment," said the businessman who also stressed that the location of his office should not be mentioned. Similar comments came from another Acehnese vendor in Blok M and a parking attendant in Kota.

Governor Sutiyoso said on Wednesday that in anticipation of possible terror attacks in the city, he had instructed his subordinates, from mayors to subdistrict officials, and even heads of the neighborhood units to observe rented houses which may be used as hideouts for terrorists.

Sutiyoso also said people should not just report suspected terrorists in their area, but encouraged people to apprehend them and take the suspects to the police.

Jakarta Police chief Insp. Gen. Makbul Patmanagara claimed that the police had identified a number of places which were hideouts of GAM members in the city, But he refused to elaborate.

Ade Rostina, an independent volunteer who used to raise funds for Aceh, also confirmed the fear of the Acehnese.

"I have contacted several Acehnese here, but they did not want to make any comment, so I cannot recommend any name for you," Ade told The Jakarta Post on Thursday.

She also expressed concern over Sutiyoso's statement saying that it could spark serious problems in society.

"People could name anyone who they don't like as a GAM member. If the masses are provoked, the person may become a victim of mass violence," Ade added.

Tubagus Haryokarbianto, a public lawyer from the Jakarta Legal Aid Institute, also expressed concern and questioned the legal basis of a policy that encouraged people to arrest alleged terrorists and the instruction to subdistrict officials to sweep rented housed to look for terrorists.