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Explosions mar Independence Day festivities in Aceh LHOKSEUMAWE - Red-and-white flags were flying high along the streets here for Independence Day celebrations on Friday, but most shops in the town were closed and business activities at a standstill. Only a few people came to observe a tightly guarded ceremony held in the town's Hiraq square, presided over by Regent Tarmizi Akarim and attended by local dignitaries.
An old man who sat near the location of the ceremony remained silent when asked by The Jakarta Post whether he came to participate in the ceremony. Syaifudin Ilyas, speaker of the local legislative council, said the people were afraid to show up at the square for fear of being targeted by members of the separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM).
"Just days before Independence Day, they (GAM members) have terrorized the people with bomb attacks. They also set fire to schools and lowered national flags," Syaifudin said. Syaifudin was referring to arson attacks on 43 school buildings in the regency, which were allegedly committed by GAM members several days before Independence Day.
Sulaeman, a guard at Ujung Belaga Inpres elementary school in Banda Sakti subdistrict, said that some unidentified people had arrived at the school early on Tuesday morning and set fire to it. "They (GAM) had demanded that the local administration excuse students from school and other activities on Fridays as it is a holiday for Muslim people. But since Aug. 17 falls on Friday and the regent demanded to hold a ceremony on that day, GAM got angry," Sulaeman said.
Meanwhile, prior to the ceremony, six homemade bombs and grenades exploded in several locations around the town, killing one man, identified as Bustami, 20, and injuring two other people, including a 12-year-old boy. Aceh Security Operation spokesman Col. Firdaus said the blasts were part of terrorist activities by GAM aimed at sabotaging Independence Day celebrations in Aceh.
City and intercity public transportation was halted following a strike by drivers on Thursday. A number of public minivan drivers said that unidentified people threatened that if they did not go on strike their vehicles would be burnt or bombed. Meanwhile, in Jakarta, the government expressed its deep concern over the escalating tension in Aceh during the celebration of Independence Day, saying it would continue to use dialogs to seek a comprehensive solution to problems in the province.
Coordinating Minister of Political and Security Affairs Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono accused certain parties of being behind the recent killing of plantation employees and the torching of school buildings in their attempt to attract international attention and to disrupt the ongoing reconciliatory process with Acehnese representatives. "There have been certain parties who are not happy with the settlement between the government and Acehnese figures," he said after hearing President Megawati Soekarnoputri's speech before the House of Representatives' plenary session here on Thursday.
He declined to identify the parties but reasserted that the government would continue to prioritize dialogs in seeking a peaceful and comprehensive solution to the problems. "We will never give up; the problem in Aceh must be solved as well as possible," he said. Minister of Foreign Affairs Hassan Wirayuda said the government was revising the comprehensive approach being employed in Aceh as defined by Presidential Decree No. 4, issued in January 2001.
"The government will place an emphasis on dialogs to seek a comprehensive solution. Besides the persuasive approach, we will also deploy troops to back up the police to restore security and order in Aceh," he said. Hassan said rebels and armed supporters of the separatist movement should abandon their fight and return to their normal lives to ease tension in the province.
Meanwhile, House Speaker Akbar Tandjung called on the government to take military-style repressive measures against the separatist movement in Aceh because the police would not be able to defeat the rebellion. "It is no longer appropriate to deploy police to handle a rebellion launched by the separatist movement, because their main task is to maintain security and enforce the law," he said. According to him, the tension in Aceh was not triggered by a social clash but by a rebellion that must be tackled with a militaristic approach.



Posted in Aceh conflict @ 18 August 2001 00:02 CET by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink






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