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ABRI responsible for Aceh deaths: Kontras

Serambi Indonesia - January 12, 1999

Serambi-Jakarta – Kontras, the Commission for Missing Persons and to Combat Violence, believes that ABRI, the armed forces, must take responsibility for the assault on detainees during which four persons died. The incident must be thoroughly investigated, said Munir, the director of Kontras in a press conference in Jakarta.

The Commission believes that in order to prevent the situation in Aceh from deteriorating even further, Operasi Wibawa '99 ("Asserting Authority" Operation '99) must be halted and more democratic means must be found to resolve the question of Aceh.

"The facts show that the increase in the number of troops in Aceh has only made things worse" said Munir, who was accompanied at the press conference by Acehnese students from two student organisations, Karma (Acehnese Student Committee for Reform) and Somaka (Student Solidarity for Aceh).

Operasi Wibawa '99 which was launched by ABRI has been a severe psychological shock, causing uncontrollable mass hysteria, said Munir. "This is evident from the attack at the weekend by fifty soldiers on detainees being held at the KNPI building," said the Kontras director. The operation has resulted in other excesses as well, such as the looting of property belonging to civilians and acts of terror against the civilian population, he added.

The number of civilian deaths during the ten days of the operation prove that this is not the way to resolve the crisis in Aceh. "On the contrary, it has created new problems, reopened old wounds and provided the potential for yet more political violence by the state like that which gripped Aceh during the period of DOM – its designation as a military operational zone," said Munir.

Kontras said that the social disturbances now occurring in Aceh have resulted from the failure to take firm action regarding the human rights violations and the political violence that was practiced during DOM. "The recent events in Aceh have turned the region once again into a hotbed of political violence," said Munir.

Students attending the press conference said that Aceh was now living under DOM Mark-2. The killing of civilians in Aceh, said Ruslan of Somaka, was a serious matter for the entire nation. "It's a question of ABRI-civilians relations," he said. He warned that if the military operations in Aceh were not halted, ABRI could soon be confronted by Acehnese students in all parts of the country.

Saiful Bahri of Karma who arrived in Jakarta a few days ago said the situation in Aceh is now extremely tense; the civilian population is overwhelmed by a great fear.

Referring to the person named Ahmad Kandang, Saiful Bahri said that people in Aceh knew nothing about this man. "We are all very surprised at the sudden emergence of this name and claims that he had been able to build a stock of sharp implements without any counter action from the security forces," said Saiful Bahri.