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In Aceh, a final warning to turn in illegal arms

Jakarta Globe - February 20, 2012

Nurdin Hasan, Banda Aceh – Police in Aceh are issuing increasingly strident demands for a reluctant public to relinquish the estimated thousand-odd firearms still held illegally after the province's civil war ended in 2005.

The declaration of a weeklong amnesty permitting the public to hand over illegally held weapons and explosives without suffering legal sanctions had netted a paltry three firearms by Monday, the day before it was due to expire.

During a similar initiative last year, the public handed over a total of 43 locally made firearms, dozens of active grenades and more than 7,000 bullets.

Aceh Police spokesman Sr. Comr. Gustav Leo said if people holding weapons illegally failed to take advantage of the amnesty, they would fall foul of a special operation to track down and prosecute those in violation of the law.

The police will cooperate with the military on a joint search operation called Kilat Rencong 2012, Gustav said. Kilat means "lightning" and rencong is the name for Aceh's distinctive traditional kris-like dagger.

"This law enforcement operation is designed to provide a sense of security to the Aceh public, because the presence of illegal firearms has been very disturbing," he said.

In addition to vehicle searches, police officers will enter homes to look for weapons as part of the operation, the spokesman said.

"The police will go from house to house where they suspect people are still hiding firearms," he said. "The searches will be conducted according to standard police operating procedures, so they should not cause alarm among homeowners. We will only conduct searches where we have valid information that weapons may be present."

After almost three decades of civil war and human rights abuses by both government forces and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), many ordinary Acehnese are still afraid of the military and the police. Gustav was at pains to repeat that people should not worry.

"Citizens who don't have illegal weapons need not fear us because we will conduct this operation with the utmost professionalism," he said. "Anyone who has a weapon and resists handing it over will be dealt with according to legal procedures."

The military and police plan to focus their search on six districts that were major GAM strongholds before the 2005 peace agreement. They are Aceh Besar, Pidie, Bireuen, North Aceh, East Aceh and Lhokseumawe.

Aceh has seen a series of armed attacks seemingly related to upcoming elections in the province, in which the governor, four mayors and 13 district heads will be chosen on April 9. None of the shootings, in which nine people have died since December, have been solved.