Wahid cancels Aceh trip; 5 civilians killed


BANDA ACEH, Indonesia Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid on Friday canceled a planned trip to Aceh province, where troops are poised to begin anti-rebel operations.

His decision came as police and residents said troops had shot five civilians near the town Wahid had been scheduled to visit, while vital gas fields remain closed due to separatist threats.

“The cancellation is more of a technical problem, because the visit is too close to the reply to the memorandum, and it is not really a security problem,” Wahid’s spokesmen Adhie Massardie told journalists in Jakarta.

Wahid, whose efforts to bring Aceh’s warring factions together through dialogue have so far failed to stem the bloodshed, had been scheduled to make a one-day visit to Meulaboh, the capital of West Aceh, on March 26.

But the president is facing a drive by parliamentarians to impeach him and is scheduled to face parliament on March 28 to reply to allegations of involvement in two financial scandals.

“The trip to Aceh will take place following the president’s visit to Australia and New Zealand … most likely in mid-April,” Adhie added.

Meanwhile, a local journalist reported that a joint army-police team conducting a sweep for separatist rebels in the village of Suak Bilie, in the West Aceh sub district of Seunagan, killed five civilians on Thursday.

“The security personnel fired shots as soon as they jumped out of six trucks and one armored car, and began to go after villagers who were working their fields,” one resident said.

Five men were taken away by the troops and villagers, seeking to know their fate, went to the town of Meulaboh and found the five dead at the Cut Nyak Dhien general hospital.

All five bodies had gunshot wounds, the residents said.

Aceh Police spokesman Adjunct Senior Commissioner Sudarsono said the sweep was launched following an ambush on a police patrol in the area earlier Thursday and the torching of a military post in Peulekung, in the same sub district, on Wednesday.

The local commander of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), Teungku Ramli, claimed responsibility for torching the military post but denied ambushing the patrol.