Aceh Governor Abdullah Puteh, still the subject of an ongoing corruption investigation, is now facing accusations of supporting the separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM).
He strongly denies any involvement with the insurgents, but Indonesian Defense Forces (TNI) commander General Endriartono Sutarto on Monday some detained GAM members had claimed the governor was cooperating with the rebel movement.
"GAM members who surrendered have now admitted there was indeed cooperation like that – both before and during his tenure [as governor] and that this is indeed true," Sutarto was quoted as saying by detikcom online news portal.
Nevertheless, he said, TNI so far has no hard evidence of the governor's alleged involvement with the rebels. "We'll just see, whether or not those claims are based on truth. But whatever happens, the law must be followed," he added. "We don't know how far this goes. We will see whether the process of law disproves those claims or whether there is legal proof."
According to detikcom, rumor has it that Puteh had allegedly paid bribes to certain GAM officials to support his bid to become governor and later continued to give them money in return for their ongoing support.
Gumarni, former assistant to GAM military chief Muzakir Manaf, on April 28, 2004, reportedly told TNI he had met with Puteh on several occasions since 2002. He allegedly said one meeting took place at Polonia Airport in Medan, North Sumatra, to discuss Manaf's situation. Gumarni was also quoted as saying he met with the governor three times at the Mandarin Hotel in Jakarta.
At their first alleged hotel meeting, in September 2003, Puteh allegedly handed over Rp5 million in cash, detikcom reported. At the second alleged meeting, in January 2004, the governor reportedly handed over Rp10 million.
And at the third alleged meeting, in March 2004, Puteh reportedly discussed a plan for a meeting with then coordinating minister for people's welfare Jusuf Kalla but the meeting never transpired.
GAM's former coordinator for South Aceh, Sayed Mustafa, on May 7, 2004, allegedly told TNI he met with Puteh in 1999 at the Gran Melia Hotel in Jakarta. He was quoted as saying he was ordered to attend the meeting by GAM's exiled 'prime minister' Malik Mahmud.
Among those who also allegedly attended the meeting were GAM members Syalidan, Adek and Zulkarnaen, and politician Rusli Bintang. Mustafa allegedly received Rp5 million from Puteh at the time for supporting his bid to become governor.
Another GAM member who reportedly claimed to have met with Puteh is Asmadi Syam, head of the movement's social affairs section. He reportedly said they met at the Atlantik Hotel in Jakarta to discuss Puteh's bid to become governor.
Former secretary of the Coordinating Ministry for Political and Security Affairs, Sudi Silalahi, said Monday he had long been aware of indications that Puteh was involved in GAM. He said such indications had later been confirmed by arrested GAM members. "But we could not act on these without having strong proof," he said.
Silalahi, who is now part of presidential frontrunner Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's campaign team, said he had also received accurate information from TNI on Puteh's alleged connections with the rebels. He said he felt such information was not acted on for a long time because the governor was untouchable. "I don't know why that was so. I could not comment on anything," he added.
No official reports
Coordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs Hari Sabarno said Monday he was yet to receive any reports from the National Intelligence Body (BIN) or other government organizations on Puteh's alleged involvement in GAM.
"I cannot check on those comments because you [reporters] are referring to statements from other people. Those peoples' statements were spread by you," he was quoted as saying by detikcom.
"In my capacity as Home Affairs Minister and Coordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs, my tasks are to implement a stable government. If someone or some official is suspected of being linked to GAM, then yes, the authorities should resolve the matter legally," he said. "I do not want to comment on the connection of an official with GAM. Furthermore, your statements are only based on someone else's rumors that are being spread about," he added.
Sabarno said he had so many responsibilities that he could not personally check on the veracity of all rumors being spread about the country's governors, regents and mayors.
Later on Monday, Sabarno reportedly met with TNI chief Sutarto, National Police chief General Dai Bachtiar, BIN head Hendropriyono and several senior ministers to discuss the situation in Aceh.
More than 2,300 people have been killed in the province since the government in May 2003 launched a massive military operation to exterminate GAM.
It remains to be seen whether Puteh's apparent fall from grace with the military is linked to President Megawati Sukarnoputri's efforts to boost her popularity ahead of the September 20 run-off presidential election.