By Elizabeth Pisani
28 May 1991
(c) 1991 Reuters Limited
JAKARTA, May 28, Reuter - The governor of the strife-torn northern Indonesian province of Aceh has urged people to band together to end a rebellion that the central government in Jakarta says is already over.
"I hope that by the 1992 elections there will be no more remnants of the GPK (rebels) in our territory," the official Antara news agency on Tuesday quoted Governor Ibrahim Hasan as saying.
Hasan said after a three-day visit to the trouble zone last week that banners appearing all over the north Sumatran province were proof residents were committed to wiping out separatist rebels known by the government as the Security Disturbing Movement or GPK.
Human rights activists recently returned from Aceh said the banners, sponsored by government-backed women's and religious groups, bore legends such as "The people will crush the GPK".
"The 'crush them' banners seem to contradict the banners that say 'GPK, if you give yourselves up you'll come to no harm'," one human rights worker said.
Local and international observers said ordinary civilians were being sent ahead of troops in search parties to the hills, where around 200 poorly armed rebels are thought to be based.
"They round up 10 people from each village, give them minimal training and then send them off with machetes as a sort of buffer force for the troops," one Acehnese resident said.
Residents have reported spontaneous capture of rebels by villagers, who then turn them over to the military.
"They think if they catch them and hand them over there is a chance they will be tried and imprisoned, whereas if the military catch them themselves they usually kill them outright," an Acehnese aid worker told reporters during a recent visit to the province.
A north Aceh court on Monday sentenced Abdul Rahman to 17 and a half years in prison for his part in the rebellion.
Jakarta has sent out conflicting signals on the fighting between troops and separatists in Aceh, which is barely reported in the strictly controlled local media.
"There are no more rebels in Aceh and anyway, the ones that are left have only a few guns between them," Coordinating Minister for Politics and Security Sudomo said recently. "The situation is safe, the troubles are over."
Locals say hundreds of civilians have been killed by the military in its attempts to crush the rebellion, their bodies found dumped by the roadside in the mornings.
There is little popular support for the rebels, who keep a low profile but appear to be a loose grouping of ex-soldiers, common criminals and genuine separatists fighting to free the rich province from Jakarta's rule.
"Both sides have killed civilians, that's clear," one human rights worker said. "It's a matter of degree. The rebels don't seem to be claiming many victims now."
Jakarta has been pouring development funds into Aceh to try to pacify unrest.
"The people want to see this security problem over soon because the bulldozer of development must go on," Antara quoted a local military officer as saying after a meeting with Hasan.
The governor called on Moslem clerics in the strongly Islamic province to preach sermons teaching people not to be seduced by the separatists.
Aceh has a long history of rebellion first against Dutch colonial rule, then Japanese occupation and now Jakarta.
In the 1950s the government, working through Moslem preachers, reached a political compromise that gave the province special autonomous status, at least in name.
Political observers say that in the current 18-month-old rebellion Moslem preachers have been sidelined.
One of the best known, Tenku Achmad Dewi, who cooperated with the previous military commander and arranged an amnesty for a number of rebels, disappeared in March and is believed by many human rights activists and locals to have been shot by troops.