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A Foreign Catch

IN the late afternoon of June 24, the Marines Creek Task Force, exchanged fire with 15 GAM members at Kuala Penaga in East Aceh. In the midst of the gunfire, the marines spotted someone swimming toward them.

The swimmer turned out to be a foreigner. His name is Nyana and he is Burmese. He was evacuated as soon as he arrived at the nearest military post. He told the marines that he was not alone. He had three companions who were also trapped in the firefight.

The marines, under Bajul Rawa Mobile IV Task Force, exchanged fire with GAM members at around 12:20pm, when they were carrying out a routine patrol around Kuala Penaga, at the mouth of the Raja Muda River. Neither the military nor GAM suffered any casualties during the eight-minute gunfight, during which Nyana appeared.

After the military forced GAM to retreat, the marines swept the area and found Nyana's three companions: Say (another Burmese), Loo Thean Chang (a Malaysian), and Taikong Id (a Thai). The marines found them on a trawling fishing boat, registration number KHF-1204. According to one of the fishermen, the boat belongs to Ahi, a Malaysian.

The ship's document that the foreigners presented showed that the fishermen, according to the Government of Malaysia, have a permit to catch fish. "The intriguing question is that the document says the ship has two crew but we found four people," Aceh Military Operation Commander, Brig. Gen. Bambang Darmono told reporters.

The four were evacuated by helicopter to Lhokseumawe, the capital of North Aceh, at around 4pm. The helicopter arrived at the scene not long after another helicopter took US freelance journalist, William Nessen, to Banda Aceh. After they got to Lhokseumawe, the four fishermen were interrogated at the Headquarters of the Military Operation Commander.

Bambang dismissed the notion that the four foreigners were supplying arms to GAM. According to him, the foreigners are merely fishermen until it is proven otherwise. "After examining their fishing boat on June 18, I believe that it is really a common fishing boat, " said Bambang. The military found the ship empty some time ago.

According to Col. Alfan Baharuddin, Bajul Rawa Mobile IV Task Force Commander, the marines found the four foreigners in rough shape. "They say they have been taken hostage by GAM for 30 days," said Alfan, during which time they had to move around following GAM. But they said they were well treated. "I simply don't understand why they took us," said Loo speaking with a heavy Malay accent.

The Department of Foreign Affairs has yet to receive a formal report on the four foreigners from the Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam Martial Law Administrator. "We have heard about it from the media, but have not received any formal reports," the Secretary-General of the Foreign Affairs Department, Sujanan Parnohadiningrat, told Anastasya of TEMPO News Room.

He has no idea how they entered an area in which a military operation to restore security was underway and why they were "trapped" there. Sujanan said that they do not need a visa to enter Indonesia since they belong to the countries whose citizens don't require visas for short visits.

Abdul Manan, Cahyo Junaedy

TEMPO, JULY 07, 2003-043/P. 23 Heading National

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