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A Bloody Dawn in Peusangan

"We're poor. My son was forced to work as a shrimp pond watchman to pay for his schooling. He wasn't GAM," said M. Nasir Abdurrahman, the father of Anas, 13, who had been shot dead.

STILLNESS hung over three villages in Peusangan District in Bireun, Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam, last Thursday. The woodpaneled cottages were silent, as if uninhabited. The markets, coffee stalls, and the places that were usually bustling seemed suddenly deserted. Villagers chose to stay indoors and stay silent when reporters or foreigners came. "Don't interview me. I don't want any trouble," said one of the villagers from Mata Mamplam in Peusangan whom TEMPO had met that day.

What was going on in Peusangan? Apparently, people were still traumatized, even though the shooting incidents in the villages of Cot Rabo Tunong, Mata Mamplam, and Alue Glumpang in a corner of North Aceh, had happened more than a week before. That was the dawn of Wednesday, May 21, when Indonesian Military (TNI) troops, attacked members of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), and shot dead seven local residents whom they were convinced, were members of the separatist movement.

Few people know what really transpired during that shattering dawn incident. The AFP news agency publicized its report the following day--which was then quoted by Koran Tempo newspaper in its Friday, May 23 edition. Apart from this French media, other foreign journalists covering the incident were the BBC and The Guardian, both UK-based.

What the local population told these foreign media was indeed hair-raising. The soldiers, they reported, were extremely sadistic: lining up villagers they accused of being GAM members, and then shooting them dead. Some family members of the dead have denied that the victims were GAM members. In other words, the TNI is being accused of murdering civilians.

The accusation caused a real stir in Jakarta. The generals at TNI Headquarters in Cilangkap were enraged. "TNI will sue the media publishing false reports on the shooting," announced TNI Commander in Chief General Endriartono Sutarto, last Tuesday. He then ordered his subordinates to immediately form an investigation team to check out the stories.

What really did happen in Peusangan? TEMPO, who had combed the area three days after the incident, was told by Syamsuddin, 50, the Imam (preacher) at Cot Rabo Tunong village mosque, the sequence of events which finally exploded around 5:30am. "I had just gone to sleep after saying my dawn prayers," he said. Suddenly he heard the sound of shots followed by a shout: "Get down!" He then threw himself out of bed onto the floor and ordered his wife and seven children to do the same.

Not long after, someone pounded on the door of his house. It was TNI soldiers. "This is a GAM village, right?" shouted one of the men. Syam shook his head. He asked for mercy, so he wouldn't be shot. Then there was the sound of another set of shots, but Syam admitted he did not personally see what was happening.

M. Nasir Abdurrahman, another villager, continued the story. At dawn, several soldiers slipped into his house and took him outside. He was taken to the village market and ordered to squat at the side of the road. Together with several other people, he was asked to name the hiding places of GAM members. He said he did not know. The soldiers questioned Nasir further, cursing at the same time and aiming their weapons at him, before finally allowing him to go home after an hour.

At around 10am, Syam and Nasir were finally able to find out what had happened. They found seven corpses spread-eagled near the rice paddies, some 5 to 10 meters apart. The seven victims were Anas Munajir, 13, and Dedi Daud, 31 (both from Cot Rebo Tunong), Tasran (27, from Pulo Nalem), Nasrullah Yusuf (27, from Alue Glumpang), together with Efendi Marzuki, 25, Khaerul Hasballah, 27, and Nurdin Ahmad, 55 (all from Mata Mamplam).

The victims' families denied their dead relatives were GAM members. "He [Anas] wasn't GAM. He was too young to take part in anything like that," said M. Nasir Abdurrahman, the boy's father. Syamsuddin, who gave Anas's body the ritual funerary bathing, found four bullet holes on the body. One bullet had entered his back and exited through his chest. The other holes were found in the calf, thigh, and the left side of the head. Part of the boy's head was ripped open.

Nasir almost fainted when he found his son dead. "I lifted up the body of a small boy that was lying face down. When I turned it over, it turned out to be my own son," he said sadly.

TNI does not believe the residents' version of the story. The TNI Military Police went to the location twice to find out the facts. An investigation took place on May 24 in the presence of five reporters from TEMPO, The Jakarta Post, Kompas, and RCTI, respectively.

The group was closely guarded on the way to the three villages. There the TNI introduced the journalists to four Peusangan residents who the military claim know what really happened. The four local people are A. Halim (Alue Julok village), Muhammad Puteh (Alue Glumpang), M. Ali Ahmad (Panti Cot), and Ibrahim Hasim (Cot Rabo Tunong). Halim and Ibrahim were the TNI's guides during the dawn attack.

Halim is convinced the victims were GAM members. He knew some of them as cantoi (spies) who were tasked with monitoring the movements of TNI troops. They were hiding in the huts around the shrimp pond when the soldiers came looking for them. "They were the ones who called out `run, the pai' (TNI) are here," said Halim. He is even more convinced because that night not a single villager left his house. And even more so as six of the dead had walkie-talkies.

The military also have their own version. They say the incident began when 87 Para Commando troops (Parako) became involved in a shootout with GAM at around 2:30am. The troops had gotten down off their trucks and walked towards Krueng Dee village. They avoided the bridge which connects Krueng Dee with the village of Cot Paseeh because they suspected GAM had wired it with

After walking for about 100 meters, they heard a bomb explode from the direction of the bridge. That was when they saw two 13-year-olds running off in the direction of a rice mill, not far from the bridge.

The soldiers then approached. At around 5am they came across two GAM members walking towards the troops. From 100 meters away, the two men shouted out, "The pai are here. Run...!" The soldiers called out for the two GAM members to stop, but were ignored. Then they heard the explosion of a grenade launcher (GLM) being fired from the opposite direction. The soldiers fired and...the two men fell to the ground.

The other GAM members attempted to flee. Two of these were caught by Ibrahim, the witness in the TNI investigation. Ibrahim asked in Acehnese dialect, "Sou dro keuh (who are you)?" The man replied, "Lon [I] am a GAM marine." He was also found to be carrying a Kenwood brand walkie-talkie. When he was asked who the man with him was, he answered, "Nyan waki lon (he is my deputy)." Suddenly, the two fled. When they were ordered to stop, both continued to run. More shots followed and both men fell dead, too.

The victims were not found in one location, but scattered in three villages. That is Halim's version. The location where the bodies were found is where the three villages in Peusangan District meet. The local people also admitted that they did not see firsthand what happened during the shooting. Halim and Ibrahim's explanations were reinforced by another witness who claimed that five of the dead were GAM members. They are said to have exploited the people with nanggroe (illegal taxes), carried out shootings, and burnt schools.

The witness Ibrahim claims one of the victims had once asked him to pay the nanggroe tax. Halim, too, was once shot by GAM with an AK-47 rifle from a distance of three meters. The bullets hit him in the mouth, arm and leg, leaving him disabled. His house was also burnt down by GAM because he refused to pay the nanggroe tax. Ali Ahmad was once harassed about the "state" tax issue. Ibrahim Hasim was even held by GAM for five days in its Alue Buya Pasee base because he was accused of being a TNI spy.

To the press, the TNI claimed the 10 people had died in the shootout. Five of these, witnesses said, were GAM members, while the remainder were thought to be only spies (see graph).

The Military Operations commander, Brig. Gen. Bambang Darmono, also doubted the testimony of local people, who say some of the victims were out guarding the shrimp pond. "That pond has not been in use for the past five months," said a furious Bambang. Field checks confirmed that many shrimp ponds in Peusangan are no longer in use. "Our shrimps died from disease," confirmed one villager. Even so, some days people still seek out the remaining shrimps and small crabs found in the ponds.

But the local population remain convinced that the TNI shot the wrong men. "All of us here will swear that Anas and Dedi Daud were not GAM members. As for the others, we don't know because they are not from our village," said Saiful Bahri, deputy village head of Cot Rabo Tunong. The TNI could well be facing a hard time in confronting GAM's guerilla tactics. The separatists find it easy to blend in with the locals. As a result, targeting the wrong people is always a possibility.

The military is now taking the appropriate action. It is preparing rapid military courts for personnel accused of shooting arbitrarily. It plans to set up courts in two important parts of Aceh, namely Banda Aceh and Lhokseumawe.

This is a sound decision. The court will later be able to determine whether the shooting of an unarmed GAM member is permissible. In the Peusangan incident, most of the victims were apparently found to be unarmed. This small district has now been left with its loneliness and its bitter feelings.

Arif Zulkifli, Wahyu Dhyatmika, Zainal Bakri, Abdul Manan, Faisal Asegaf (Lhokseumawe)

TEMPO, JUNE 09, 2003-039/P. 12 Heading Cover Story


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