Thu, 13 Apr 2000

Suspects arrive for Aceh human rights abuse trial

BANDA ACEH, Aceh (JP): A total of 25 suspects of the Bantaqiah killing arrived here on Wednesday for the joint military-civilian trial scheduled to begin on Monday.

The suspects, 24 military personnel and one civilian, boarded an Air Force Hercules at the Iskandar Muda airport under tight security at 11:10 a.m. local time. The Military Police officer who heads a joint team of investigators in the murder case, Col. Hendardji, was seen accompanying the suspects.

The entourage, including witnesses and a joint military- civilian panel of judges, also brought evidence with them, including four M-16 semiautomatic rifles, eight SS-1s, one GLM short gun, marijuana and a machete.

Hendardji handed over the dossiers and evidence to the Aceh Provincial Prosecutor office later in the day.

It will be the first of five cases of alleged human rights abuse to be sent to court upon recommendation of a government- sanctioned commission inquiring into violence in the troubled province. The decade-long anti-rebel military operations were lifted in 1998.

All the suspects went straight to Mataie prison in a military compound located 10 kilometers south of here.

A bus belonging to the local administration transported the suspects from the airport to the detention house. Most of them were attired in their uniforms.

As the bus passed Lambaro through Blang Bintang districts, troops were seen standing near intersections while local residents looked on.

Head of the Aceh Prosecutor's Office, Sukarno Yusuf, said the joint tribunal will proceed on April 17 without Lt. Col. Sudjono, a key witness and suspect in the case, missing since November.

Capt. Inf. Anton Yuliantoro, 30, from the Army Strategic Reserve Command (Kostrad) will be the highest ranked military officer to stand trial. Anton is one of three officers implicated in the crimes against humanity, along with 21 rank and file soldiers.

Half of the military suspects are ranked private.

The only civilian suspect, Thaleb Amman Suar, 47, from Kampung Taya Kolak in Silih Nara district, Central Aceh, works for the military.

Military officers maintain that Islamic religious teacher Tengku Bantaqiah and his 56 students were killed in an exchange of gunfire in the remote Beutong area in West Aceh in July last year. But the inquiry commission found no evidence of resistance when the incident took place.

It will take the prosecutors three days to examine the dossiers.

"We are drafting the indictment and hopefully the trial will open on time," Sukarno said.

The tribunal has been delayed at least three times before the date was announced by Minister of Human Rights Affairs Hasballah M. Saad last week.

Locals expressed their fear on Wednesday that the trial would trigger a more chaos here and in neighboring Aceh Besar regency. In the latest outbreak of violence, a bomb explosion rocked the National Family Planning Board (BKKBN) office here on Monday night. (50/51/edt)