Thu, 04 Dec 2003

Some Acehnese unaware of GAM anniversary

Nani Farida and Tengku Agam Muzzakir, The Jakarta Post, Banda Aceh/Lhokseumawe

It was business as usual here on Wednesday, with social and economic activities undisturbed by the build-up of military presence on the eve of Free Aceh Movement (GAM) anniversary celebrations.

Markets, shops and public transportation continued to operate, while people showed no trace of anxiety, which in previous years had been expressed by the rush to stock up on basic commodities.

"I will not confine myself to my house tomorrow as I believe nothing serious will happen. I don't want to stock up on staple food as I did last year," Yeni, a housewife who lives in Lamteumen area in Banda Aceh, said.

"I will just shop for tomorrow's needs, because this time around there has been no threat of a mass strike."

In the past, rebels had urged people to join strikes to mark their organization's birthday.

Yani recounted that last year she had spent extra money on basic commodities, due to rumors that economic activities would stall during the GAM celebrations. She said her husband and children had stayed at home all day on Dec. 4, last year.

Hasballah, a vegetables trader, said he had nothing to worry about and would sell his vegetables at Aceh Market as usual on Thursday.

"If I don't sell vegetables, how I can feed my family?" he said.

Amir, a public transportation driver, agreed with Hasballah, saying he would work as usual.

He brushed aside security threats following an attack on a public bus plying the Banda Aceh to Medan route on Tuesday, which left three passengers suffering from gunshot wounds.

The martial law administration in Aceh renewed its warnings to Aceh people Wednesday to continue their activities and defy the rebels' attempts to win public support.

"Nobody is allowed to attend the anniversary celebrations, otherwise they will be charged with joining GAM," the martial law administration spokesman, Col. Ditya Soedarsono, said.

The military will also intensify their patrols in a bid to prevent GAM from organizing celebrations to mark their self- proclaimed independence by the rebel leader Hasan Tiro, 27 years ago at the foot of Mt. Halimun in Pidie.

GAM has been fighting for independence since then.

Teungku Jamaika, GAM spokesman overseeing North Aceh, said that the movement had never asked people to participate in the group's celebrations or to hoist the separatist flag.

He suggested that people continue their daily activities, while praying for the safety of Aceh people.

"The military warns people against attending the celebrations, as though many Acehnese have been forced by us to attend the event. The threat is just cheap propaganda against us," he said in a statement.

The military has issued a shoot-on-sight order for people who celebrate the GAM anniversary or raise the separatist flag.