Mon, 08 Mar 1999

'Referendum' banners rife in Aceh

BANDA ACEH, Aceh: Hundreds of banners demanding a referendum over the province's future were visible on Friday and Saturday throughout villages along the eastern coast of Aceh, from the town of Pidie to the North Sumatra borderline, Antara reported on Sunday.

Posters were also displayed at bus terminals and markets in Lhokseumawe, the site of recent violence. Lhokseumawe is 270 kilometers east of here.

All banners and posters were written in the local dialect.

Some said "We demand a peaceful referendum, not a bloody referendum."

Governor Syamsuddin Mahmud, who the news agency said had traveled back and fro from Pidie, North Aceh and East Aceh over the past week, did not comment on the demands.

Syamsuddin has suggested that a federal system would be best to maintain the country's unity, while students have called for a referendum to determine whether the Acehnese want a separate state.

Antara reported that the banners and posters were put in place following an Acehnese students congress -- organized by the Action Coalition of Acehnese Students and Nusantara Youths- Students Committee -- here early last month.

Torture, abduction and killings of over 800 civilians have been only recently exposed since the military declared the province a military operation zone in 1989. The status was lifted last year, after which civilian and military victims have continued to fall.