Wed, 06 Aug 2003

Security tightened ahead of Independence Day

Tertiani ZB Simanjuntak and Nani Farida, The Jakarta Post, Lhokseumawe/Banda Aceh

Home-made bombs have been found in war-torn Aceh as the martial law administration heightens security prior to the celebration of Independence Day, which falls on Aug. 17.

The military said the explosives were prepared by the insurgent Free Aceh Movement (GAM) to be used during the national commemoration.

The latest bomb was found on Tuesday at a bunker in Paloh Meria village, Lhokseumawe.

Troops from the 121th Infantry Battalion uncovered the bomb which weighed about 10 kilograms.

The spokesman for the Aceh military operation, Lt. Col. Ahmad Yani Basuki, said a man arrested on Monday, in connection with the murder of community figure Tengku Zainudin Banda, had led the troops to the bunker.

According to military investigators, the suspected GAM member admitted that the bombs were planned to be detonated on Aug. 17.

Yani said that GAM could take advantage of the momentum of the Independence Day celebrations.

"The residents are enthusiastic about celebrating the national day in their neighborhood and this fact is certainly unpleasant to GAM," Yani said.

"We have heightened security in several locations which we consider prone to such attacks."

Shortly after the discovery of the bunker, the military arrested Heru Abbas alias Boboho, a suspected GAM member who leads a group of seven-armed-men.

Heru admitted that they had hidden their guns in a salt pond close to the coast, but after searching until late in the afternoon, the troops found nothing.

Also that same day, the Army's Special Force troops shot six alleged GAM members, in an attack on the rebel stronghold in the Peusangan district. A resident, whose identity has yet to be revealed, was arrested following the onslaught.

Four of the suspected rebels were shot in Pulo Blang village, one in Pulo U village and the other one in Meunasah Geudong village.

All of the GAM members were shot in the head and all were under the age of 30.

The assault was backed by the Army's Strategic Reserve Command troops who blockaded the area with two tanks, forcing residents to stay at home.

Pulo U resident Saidah, 60, said the operation started at dawn and residents didn't dare to go to the market, to work or to school.

A junior-high school student Fitri said her teachers canceled classes.

The village has been suffering from electricity blackouts at night for the last two months.

In Banda Aceh, one of five former GAM negotiators Tengku Kamaruzzaman denied accusations that he was a member of the separatist group, saying he had never registered with the organization.

"I am the son of this nation. GAM has entrusted and appointed me to be a negotiator in peace talks with the government," Kamaruzzaman told the Banda Aceh District Court.

In the trial, presided over by judge Maratua Rambe, Kamaruzzaman was accompanied by his lawyers, Rufriadi, Ratna Dewi and Sarifah Murlina.

Prosecutor Ohari Pujo accused Kamaruzzaman of being a GAM member, or at least of knowing that the group was planning to attack the government and wanted to separate from the republic.

Kamaruzzaman also denied charges that he had donated funds to GAM.

Five former GAM mediators are standing trial on charges of treason and terrorism.