Tue, 04 Feb 2003

Three more mass graves found in Aceh

Nani Farida, The Jakarta Post, Banda Aceh

With the signing on Dec. 9, 2002 of the cessation of hostilities agreement between Indonesia and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), the Acehnese people began to feel emboldened enough to speak about the crimes committed by GAM in the past, starting with the three mass graves found in Kemukiman Manggamat, South Aceh.

A group of residents from the village met on Monday with Maj. Gen. Djali M. Jusuf, chief of the Iskandarmuda Military Command overseeing Aceh, to report their finding the graves two months ago, and to call for authorities to follow up with a thorough investigation.

The group said the three mass graves were found accidentally by locals on Jan. 30, and contained the skeletons of 16 men from the villages of Jambo Papan and Sarah Baru, some 665 kilometers southeast of Banda Aceh.

Effendi, head of Sarah Baru Village, said villagers knew the 16 skeletons were those of men from the clothes they were wearing.

"The mass grave in Jambo Papan contained four skeletons, while the other two in Sawah Baru contained 12 skeletons," he said, adding that the skeletons were reburied in an Islamic burial ceremony.

Residents of Kemukiman Manggamat believed that the mass graves was evidence of GAM's bloody crackdown against locals on June 5, 2001.

Effendi said that on that day, a group of GAM rebels raided the village for those who refused to support the separatist movement, and dozens of locals were arrested because they had no money to give to GAM.

"The villagers were intimidated and forced to pay money to GAM. Those who were unable to pay money were tortured to death and their bodies buried," said Effendi.

Along with Effendi, Amran, secretary of the village, said villagers believed there were many more mass graves in the districts because hundreds of villagers had been arrested and abducted during the raids.

Djali called on human rights institutions and the Henry Dunant Centre (HDC) facilitating the peace process to conduct a thorough investigation on the mass graves and the villagers' accounts.

"Human rights institutions and the HDC should investigate the mass graves and pressure GAM in this," he said, adding that he had ordered an Army Strategic Reserve Command group (Kostrad) to accompany people in the district to look for other mass graves.

Last week, the Oil and Gas Coordinating Body (BP Migas) complained about the widespread extortion of oil and gas companies in the province by GAM rebels after the peace accord had been signed. A number of villages have also reported that GAM extorted money from villages which were strongholds of the separatist movement.

GAM has reportedly forced villages to pay Rp 10 million (USS$1,110) and has coerced contractor companies to set aside 10 percent of the contract value of their projects as contributions toward GAM.

The National Commission of Human Rights has also found dozens of mass graves in Lhokseumawe containing thousands of bodies belonging to those who were killed during the military operation conducted between 1989 and 1999 in the province under former president Soeharto's repressive regime.

The military has made an apology to the people, especially to the Acehnese, for the mass killings during the operation to quell the separatist movement.

None of the security personnel who were involved in the atrocity have been brought to trial so far.