Thu, 25 Sep 2003

Troops blamed for attacking villagers

Apriadi Gunawan, The Jakarta Post, Medan, North Sumatra

A group of suspected soldiers attacked a residential area in Deliserdang regency, North Sumatra, leaving a number of villagers injured and their houses damaged, local residents and military officers said on Wednesday.

The attack, launched on Tuesday night at Fuji Mulyo village, Sunggal subdistrict, was believed to be revenge for the beating of a soldier by several youths.

Witnesses said the soldiers became angered after failing to find those who had allegedly beaten their friend in the village.

Hours later, the victim returned with his colleagues on motorcycles to attack the villagers, they added.

"At the time, the soldiers damaged houses and a youth post," said Paino, a local resident whose house was among those attacked.

Paino and other witnesses said at least three houses were damaged and several people injured during the brutal rampage.

F. Purba, another witness, said the problem started at around 10 p.m. on Tuesday and lasted for less than an hour.

He said he and his neighbors had immediately notified local police officers when the incident was going on, but added they told them to report it to the nearby military police office.

"The reason was that the incident involved the military. Therefore, the right institution to deal with the attack was military police officers," Purba said, quoting what police had told him.

Maj. Dat Malemate Ginting, an acting spokesman for the Medan Bukit Barisan military command, confirmed the attack by several suspected soldiers.

The attack was motivated by the attack of the Indonesian Military (TNI) soldier, he added.

However, Ginting could not identify the soldiers as an investigation was underway.

"So far, we don't know who the culprits are and what unit they belong to. Nor are we certain that the attackers are Army soldiers because there so many units here," he told The Jakarta Post at his office in Medan.

He said the Medan Military Police Detachment chief, who is responsible for dealing with such incidents, told him that his office was searching for at least three soldiers suspected of involvement.

"The Military Police are tracking down on those responsible for the incident in Fiji Mulyo," Ginting said.

He said the Bukit Barisan military command, overseeing security in North Sumatra, West Sumatra and Riau, was very much concerned about the violence.

If military officers were found guilty of involvement in the attack, they would face stern sanctions, Ginting promised.

"We should look at the case in a neutral manner. If the culprits are really soldiers, they will be punished for disciplinary offenses and their cases will be brought to court. But if the perpetrators are civilians, legal action should also be taken against them," he said.

Ginting said similar cases occurred many times in several parts of North Sumatra, involving soldiers and thugs.

One of the cases was a clash in 2002 between troops and a group of hoodlums in Padangsidempuan regency, which sparked mass rioting, he added.