Army plans island prison for Aceh rebels

Army plans island prison for Aceh rebels

By Matthew Moore Herald Correspondent in Jakarta and agencies
June 10 2003

As Indonesia's renewed war in Aceh province enters its fourth week, the army has unveiled plans to build an island prison to hold 1000 suspected members and supporters of the separatist group, GAM.

The move came as President Megawati Sukarnoputri reiterated that she and her Government would not tolerate separatism.

The spokesman for the Aceh military command, Lieutenant-Colonel Firdaus Komera, said yesterday that a portion of Nasi Island, about 15 kilometres off the capital Banda Aceh, would be set aside to build a prison camp for GAM supporters.

He said the prison may be modelled on Buru Island, near Ambon, where thousands of political prisoners were held for decades by the former dictator, Soeharto.

Prisoners on Nasi are expected to be encouraged to grow crops and take part in sports, as were those on Buru, where the Government said it wanted to change the way alleged dissidents thought.

In the first week of the war, the navy and air force shelled and bombed Nasi Island before troops invaded and took over the four villages which were accused of supporting rebels.

In its renewed war in Aceh, on Sumatra's most northerly tip, the army says it has arrested 183 GAM suspects, including a number who surrendered.

They will be sent to Nasi Island once the camp is completed in about two months.

Meanwhile, three soldiers convicted of beating innocent villagers with sticks and clubs were yesterday sentenced to four months and 20 days detention.

The army has brushed aside allegations its soldiers murdered a villager, Abu Bakar, during the raid in Lawang village in North Aceh and said he was a GAM member who was shot dead while trying to escape.

Ms Megawati yesterday told veterans of the country's independence struggle against the Dutch she had given "wider room" for the peaceful settlement of separatist desires. "But what has emerged are struggles for separatism and freedom using weapons, and I cannot tolerate these any further.

"The life of the nation within the unitary state of the Republic of Indonesia is, for me, not bargainable or negotiable, and cannot be changed or erased."

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