Sun, 08 Jun 2003

Youths arrested for setting fire to Aceh schools

Tiarma Siboro and Berni K. Moestafa, The Jakarta Post, Lhokseumawe, Aceh

Two teenagers were arrested by the Indonesian Military (TNI) when they were caught red-handed attempting to set fire to a school building in Bayu district, North Aceh regency, on Saturday.

Meanwhile, the Indonesian Military (TNI) has suspended nine soldiers from active duty for the killing of a German tourist.

Although the military has said all procedures were followed in the shooting, the nine were ordered to take leave until investigations into the incident are completed, Lt. Col. Firdaus Komarno said as reported by The Associated Press.

"They are being investigated and are not on duty while it is ongoing," Komarno said.

German tourist Lothar Heinrich Albert Engels, 54, and his wife Elisabeth, 49, were camping on a beach Wednesday night when they were fired upon by government troops who had heard reports of "suspicious flashlights." The man died and his wife was injured.

The two teenagers arrested for arson were identified as Samsul, 17, and Zulkifli, 19.

"On June 5, 2003, at 6:45 p.m. the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) rebels attempted to burn a school, but were thwarted by the Indonesian Military," said the Aceh Military Operation Command's spokesman, Lt. Col. Achmad Yani Basuki.

Over 400 school buildings throughout the country's westernmost province have been burned since the start of the military operation 19 days ago. There are 4,864 public schools, including Islamic schools, spread throughout 20 regencies and municipalities in the restive province.

Students have had to sit their final examinations in mosques or damaged school buildings.

The burning of the schools has inflicted losses on the state amounting to Rp 100 billion (US$12.2 million), and left around 40,000 students in limbo.

Yani said that the two teenagers, who claimed to be members of the GAM police, had poured kerosene on the school building and had gone off momentarily to buy cigarettes.

The military arrested them after receiving reports from residents that two strangers were seen in the district.

Samsul, who joined GAM in 1999, admitted that he and Zulkifli received Rp 200,000 for each school they burned down.

"But we were deceived because we haven't been paid for our last operation," he said.

The school burning operation, according to Samsul, involved a total of seven persons.

"We were only told to bring kerosene and poured it to the school building. Those (five other) men would then set it on fire. To burn one school building we only needed seven liters of kerosene," Samsul said.

Both Samsul and Zulkifli said that they were forced to join GAM although they did not want to.

"They (GAM) said if we didn't join them, they would shoot our family," Samsul said.

Zulkifli said that their job as GAM policemen was to report to their superiors if there any strangers entered their territory.

He also admitted that they both also served as cantoi (GAM intelligence agents).

Both teenagers said that they could burn two or three school buildings in one night.

Yani said the two teenagers had burned down 60 school buildings since starting their activities three years ago.

As of Saturday, people living in most parts of North Aceh, Central Aceh, Bireun and Pidie regencies were still living without electricity.

The director of the state electricity company PT PLN's Lhokseumawe office, Sulaiman Daud, said that PLN would need Rp 1.2 billion to repair the four toppled pylons.

"Each pylon will cost us Rp 300 million to repair," he said.

The blackout was the result of an arson attack on two electricity relay stations in Peureulak in East Aceh on Thursday. The power outage will cost the company some Rp 240 million in lost revenue per day.

The blackout was blamed on GAM.

In the meantime, PLN is erecting temporary pylons.

"So far only electricity poles have been guarded. It's impossible to guard each pylon as there are too many," Sulaiman said.

The pylons stand 300 meters apart from each other.

"Since we only have soldiers guarding electricity poles, there is a possibility that more towers will be toppled. Therefore, we call on the people to help us guard the facilities," he said.

Sulaiman said that the repairs would take one week at the earliest and one month at the latest.