Thu, 03 Jul 2003

Soldiers' rape trial to start on Friday in Lhokseumawe

A'an Suryana, The Jakarta Post, Lhokseumawe, Aceh

The court martial of three soldiers for the rape of four women in Aceh will start on Friday, a court official in the North Aceh town of Lhokseumawe said on Wednesday.

"They (the Lhokseumawe military court) have asked for a permit to use our court venue for the rape trial beginning on Friday morning," said Sofyan who heads the Lhokseumawe State Court.

Three soldiers from Battalion 411 of the Army's Strategic Reserves Command (Kostrad) admitted to raping the four women last month.

The maximum penalty for rape under military law is 12 years in jail.

The upcoming trial will mark the second time in which soldiers have been prosecuted over rights abuses during the six-week-old military operation in Aceh.

Last month the military court sentenced six soldiers to four months in jail for aggravated assault against a group of civilians in Lawang village, Bireun regency.

On June 27, military police arrested Chief Pvt ST, First Pvt HD and First Pvt. DL following reports that they had raped the four women at different places in North Aceh regency.

The three admitted to their crimes after three days of questioning on June 22.

Martial law administrator Maj. Gen. Endang Suwarya apologized on Monday to the Aceh people for the rapes, calling it a disgrace to the good image of the Indonesian Military (TNI).

Nevertheless, several rights groups have claimed that there are many more cases of rights abuse that remain unaccounted for, with reports still emerging over the discovery of dead civilians.

Over 10,000 people have died in the decades long conflict, most of whom have been civilians, especially during the 1989 to 1998 military operation in Aceh. Rights groups condemned both the TNI and GAM for the atrocities, but blamed the former for its longer record of abuses.

Although the TNI has been a bit more transparent in its current military operation, it has become increasingly difficult to monitor rights abuses in the province.

A slew of newly enforced edicts have completely banned many journalists and civilian monitors and severely controlled the activity of those journalists and right groups allowed into the province.

Aceh is mostly closed to foreigners, with only a few who have been residing there, or those who work for multinational companies such as ExxonMobil, able to remain in the province.

The martial law administration has instructed all foreign aid agencies to leave, and has turned a cold shoulder to local aid groups.