Thu, 17 Jul 2003

Rights body to set up posts in Aceh

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta/Lhokseumawe

Responding to widespread allegations of rights abuses in Aceh, the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) is planning to set up posts in Bireuen and Lhokseumawe regencies to receive reports of rights abuses from local people.

Ruswiati, a member of the Komnas HAM ad hoc committee in charge of Aceh, said here on Wednesday that the commission also planned to assign one Komnas HAM member in Banda Aceh to monitor the situation in the province.

"Next Thursday, we will open posts for local people to file a complaints over violence they have encountered since the operation was launched on May 19.

"And in order to ascertain whether the information on alleged rights violations is correct, we will also send a member of Komnas HAM to (the capital of) Banda Aceh to directly monitor the situation in the field," Ruswiati said on Wednesday.

"Lhokseumawe is a regency where the Aceh Military Operation headquarters is located, while Bireuen is a regency the military has categorized as a stronghold of the Free Aceh Movement," Ruswiati said.

According to Ruswiati, the decision was made because the Komnas HAM had identified various rights abuses in Aceh but "found difficulties in determining whether the reports were accurate".

Relations between Komnas HAM and military authorities had been strained following reports of mass graves in Nissam, in North Aceh.

Many believe the Indonesian Military was responsible for the alleged violence.

The military was also upset by allegations that it has trained civilian militia groups in Takengon, Central Aceh -- adopting East Timor's operation strategy.

Ruswiati said that the presence of Komnas HAM's posts in Aceh was not merely to monitor possible rights abuses, but also to monitor whether the government's humanitarian assistance reached those in need.

"We will also be in charge of refugee camps in Aceh to find out whether their have enough food and other basic needs," Ruswiati said.

Meanwhile, martial law administrator spokesman Navy Col. Ditya Soedarsono said on Wednesday that all activities that concerned the residents in the province required prior approval from the martial law administration, including the plan of the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) to open monitoring posts in several areas.

Ditya argued that although Komnas HAM was sanctioned by the government, it should be clarified whether the posts would be run by others aside from members of the commission.

"Activities conducted by non-governmental organizations as well as the media in the province require prior approval from the martial law administration. At least, Komnas HAM can say kulo nuwun (excuse me) to us," he told The Jakarta Post.

"If the activities are for the sake of the Acehnese people, the administration would not reject them," Ditya added.

During the first two months of martial law, the Komnas HAM- sanctioned ad hoc monitoring team received many reports on alleged human rights violations, including on the existence of mass graves of civilians.

Meanwhile, two middle-ranking military officers and three non- commissioned policemen are likely to be discharged for disobedience.

Aceh Police spokesman Sr. Comr. Sayeed Husainy told reporters on Wednesday that the police disciplinary council found that the five had violated the force's code of ethics.

"They had often breached our internal regulations, such as leaving their workplace without permission," he said.

Sayeed said currently dozens of policemen in Aceh are facing charges for marijuana possession, rape, and other crimes.