Fri, 03 Dec 1999

Three killed in Aceh armed clash

BANDA ACEH, Aceh (JP): One soldier and two civilians were killed on Thursday in an armed clash between the Indonesian Military (TNI) and the separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM) in Meulaboh, West Aceh, ahead of the movement's anniversary on Saturday.

There continue to be contradictory explanations on the circumstance surrounding the death of the two civilians, but it is confirmed that the incident was sparked by a clash between troops and separatist forces.

Eyewitnesses said two trucks loaded with uniformed soldiers entered the village of Beurabu in Meulaboh at about 11:00 a.m. local time.

Armed contact with GAM soldiers then took place.

Sgt. Irwansyah of the Indonesian Military was killed in the incident.

"He died at the local hospital," an eyewitness, who declined to be identified, told The Jakarta Post.

On their way back to the barracks after the clash, soldiers in the trucks reportedly opened fire on a crowd in a market place, locals said. "Two people were killed and six were wounded," the eyewitness said.

The victims, identified as Usman, 25, and Abdul Majid, 40, were chatting with other people when the military opened fire, witnesses said.

However Military District Commander Lt. Col. Widagdo denied the shooting spree, saying the two civilians were killed during the armed contact incident in Beurabu village.

Residents said they were upset by a tendency of the military to continue to roam unchecked in their villages.

"On Nov. 11, when we staged a protest against the military invasion, he (Widagdo) signed a hand-written statement assuring us that the military would no longer be allowed to operate in villages. Now the promise has been broken," said one local.

The resident said hundreds of copies of Widagdo's statement had been distributed among the villagers.

Meanwhile in East Aceh, residents found on Thursday two unidentified male bodies. Both are believed to be murder victims.

East Aceh Police precinct chief Lt. Col. Abdullah Hayati confirmed the finding, saying that one body was found at a dumping ground in an area close to Langsat.

The body was clad in blue jeans. The man's hands were tied together with a piece of cloth.

"His face was black and blue with blood coming out from his nose and ears. He could have been tortured," the police officer said.

The other corpse was found in the Pidie sea, 25 kilometers from the coast, said Tahiruddin, a local fisherman. The victim's hands were tied together with plastic rope.

Dr. Suli Abdulrachman of the local health center said that bruises to the victim's face led him to believe that the man had been tortured to death.

Meanwhile, reports from Pidie said that local youths had begun holding a night watch to "protect" flagpoles in public places from "unwanted people" attempting to hoist the GAM flag.

GAM commander Teuku Abdullah Syafei called on Wednesday for people to refrain from hoisting the GAM flag, particularly during GAM's anniversary on Saturday, in a bid to avoid unrest which could lead to the deaths of innocent people.

He said provocateurs could possibly use the momentum to spread unrest.

With tension in the province heightening ahead of the Saturday commemoration, provincial legislators in Banda Aceh called for calm.

Legislator Muhammad Yus welcomed Teuku Abdullah Syafei's announcement and urged a tolerant approach from the security apparatus.

"If it is just prayers at mosques, then God willing nothing tragic will happen. We also call on the people not to be easily provoked," he said.

Provincial legislator Yusri Hadjerat also called on all parties to refrain from destructive acts which could incite widespread unrest. (50/51/sur)