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Thousands of Bireuen residents demand ratification of Aceh law

Aceh Kita - May 11, 2006

Halim Mubary & Armia AM, Bireuen – Thousands of Bireuen residents from the 17 sub-districts that make up the regency, inundated the grounds of the Bireuen Grand Mosque on Thursday May 11 to hold a peaceful action to oversee the Draft Law on Aceh Government (RUU-PA). A similar action was also held in Lhokseumawe. The action, which was initiated by the Aceh Referendum Information Center (SIRA), was aiming to garner support from the people of Bireuen to oversee the RUU-PA.

Protesters began entering the city of Bireuen at around 9am causing traffic jams for around 20 minutes on inner-city roads such as the route between Banda Aceh and Medan and Jl. Gayo.

The departed from their respective sub-districts using dozens of trucks, motorbikes and private vehicles. The protest which concentrated at the Bireuen Grand Mosque included speeches from a number of SIRA leaders. They also put up a number of banners and posters demanding that the Acehnese version of the RUU-PA that was submitted to Jakarta by the Aceh Regional House of Representatives be ratified immediately.

In one speech, SIRA leader Faisal Ridha invited all members of Acehnese society to firmly unite in overseeing and struggling for the RUU-PA in accordance with the wishes of the Acehnese people. "Let us together maintain the peace process that is still incomplete in this year by urging the RUU-PA special committee to ratify the law as soon as possible and not by discarding the articles within it, that in the end could damage the Acehnese people themselves", Ridha told the thousands of protesters.

Meanwhile Anwar Ebtadi, the field martial for the action, said that the protest was held as a part of the momentum to safeguard the results of the Helsinki agreement as contained in the Helsinki Memorandum of Understanding and its draft that is currently being mulled over by the House of Representatives so that it does not deviate from its target. "Because, if the RUU-PA is weakened significantly, then it will mean the same thing as injuring the feelings of the Acehnese people", he said speaking to Aceh Kita.

The protest, which ended with the afternoon call to prayer, was also attended by representatives of the Aceh Monitoring Mission for Bireuen district. According to Ebtadi, a similar action was also held on the same day in Lhokseumawe – also to oversee the RUU-PA.

Not campaigning for independence

Meanwhile, the chairperson of the SIRA presidium council, Muhammad Nazar, said that the protest, which was initiated by SIRA, was not campaigning for or demanding independence, but only to oversee and demand the immediate ratification of the Acehnese version of the RUU-PA.

Nazar said that if the RUU-PA that is eventually ratified does not pay heed to the wishes of Acehnese society, there is a good possibility that the law will be rejected. "I am certain that if it is not in accordance with the people's wishes and cuts into the authority of the Aceh government, there is a good possibility it will be rejected by the people and GAM [Free Aceh Movement]", said Nazar when speaking with Aceh Kita on Wednesday.

The former political prisoner who was once incarcerated in the Malang Correctional Institution in East Java, said that SIRA now has a program to oversee the peace process and the deliberations of the RUU-PA and is not campaigning for Acehnese independence. "With regard to the peaceful actions held by the public, they are to demand the immediate ratification of the RUU-PA. And these actions are taking place everywhere", said the former lecturer from the Ar-Raniry State Institute of Islamic Studies in Banda Aceh. [dzie]

[Translated by James Balowski.]

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