Folks live in the shadow of war

  • Nation
  • Sunday, 08 Jun 2003


BANDA ACEH: It was probably a regular exchange but the clatter of American M-16 against the Russian-made AK-101 automatic riffles were enough to create a terrible fear in a wooden hut here. 

“I was sleeping,” said grandmother Aisyah, showing her old pandan-woven rug “bed” located next to a kitchen, which she shares with her two daughters, a son-in-law and six grandchildren.  

“I was so scared and immediately lay down on the floor,” Aisyah said, explaining how she struggled to drag her thin 85-year-old frail body into the hut.  

It was probably a routine for many Acehnese but one knows how many civilians were victimised in the ongoing conflict between Indonesian soldiers and Free Aceh Movement (GAM) guerilla fighters.  

This particular fight took place in a swampy area near fish farms, coconut plantation and Aisyah’s village of Payung, in front of the office of the Serambi Indonesia daily based here.  

It began around 6pm on Friday when Indonesian police, led by First Inspector Denny Jatmiko, ambushed four Acehnese guerillas.  

The guerillas, however, quickly fired back and ran into the direction of the Serambi Indonesia office, which are regularly guarded by other officers from Jatmiko’s division.  

“I saw four of them. One used a jungle camouflage, another one in black and two using regular clothes. They used different arms. But judging from the clatter, there must be an M-16 and at least two short guns, probably FN pistols,” said a police officer, who was stationed behind the newspaper office. 

The Indonesian officers themselves use the standard AK-101 riffles which have foldable handles. It went on for almost one hour before the guerrillas, who were attacked from three different directions, managed to escape.  

Journalists working in the two-story office ran down and went for safety on the ground floor.  

Fatimah, Aisyah’s eldest daughter said: “I was cooking soybean. We laid down because we’re scared of stray bullets.” 

Everything seemed to return to normal yesterday morning.  

The villagers returned to tend to their respective business. Women washed their laundry in a communal water pump. Men went to their fish farms. 

“It’s difficult to work under the current situation,” said Muhammad Amin, a muscled and bearded man, the husband of Fatimah’s younger sister.  

“We used to sell fried bananas in front of the Asrama Haji building. We used to open our business until late at night. But now, we’re already home by 7pm,” said Amin, adding that the women in the hut had to work to get additional income.  

Fatimah makes traditional Acehnese snack called kacang kuning – baked soybean coated with sugar – for a living. They earn around 20,000 rupiah (RM9.30) a day with Amin, who also has a becak mesin – motorcycle with a side car – commonly used in northern Sumatra. 

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