Thu, 19 Jun 2003

Teachers told to go to safe areas

Nana Rukmana, The Jakarta Post, Kuningan, West Java

Amid the fierce fighting between the military and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), many teachers, administrative staff and students have been told by officials that due to safety concerns it was not mandatory for them to conduct classes.

Director General of Elementary and Secondary Education at the Education Ministry, Dr. Indra Djati Sidi said here on Wednesday that the government made the new policy to prevent more victims among teachers and students after hundreds of school buildings had been burned down during the current military operation.

It is better for teachers and students to take refuge in safe areas if gunfights between the warring sides occur in their villages, he said.

Indra added that the Education Ministry had already recruited 7,110 new teachers and 3,000 of them would be sent to the restive province to teach at the many temporary camps that house tens of thousands of families who have had to leave their homes.

"Our main concern is their (teachers and students who have not left to the camps) safety and it is wise should learning activities remain suspended throughout the military operation," Indra said.

Since martial law and the military offensive began on May 19, more than 400 school buildings in the province have been torched and teachers have been targeted by an unknown group or groups.

The burning of school buildings, mostly in Bireuen, North Aceh, Pidie and Aceh Besar regencies, has caused losses of up to Rp 100 billion (12.2 million) and left more than 40,000 students in limbo.

The four regencies are strongholds of GAM.

According to Indra, the government would likely need more than Rp 300 billion to build new school buildings and to rehabilitate the ones which have suffered damaged in the conflict.

The government will try to find other venues such as mosques and other buildings where students can have classes until the government finishes the construction of new schools next year.