Dangerous journey for food convoys

BANDA ACEH: Naimah Hasan desperately wants to leave Aceh’s capital as she has urgent business matters to settle in Medan, which is in the southern part of North Sumatra. 

But the 40-year-old Acehnese businesswoman is on a one-week waiting list for the 55-minute Garuda Airways flight to Medan. 

Demand for seats on the twice-daily flights out of Aceh has increased after the Indonesian military launched its assault against the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) on May 19. 

Kanaka Mulia Perdana travel agency director H. Djamaluddin L.T. said that before martial law was declared in the gas and oil-rich province, bus companies ran express buses nightly to and from Aceh and North Sumatra.         

But the popular 10-hour bus service from here to Medan was halted when the journey became dangerous with random shootings by snipers. 

The land journey passes through Pidie, Bireuen and Lloksemawe, where intense firefights between the military and GAM fighters were taking place. 

Those risking the long land route, with many military roadblocks, are members of the press covering Aceh and trucks bringing in food supplies. 

In Bireuen on Friday, a convoy of more than 150 trucks carrying basic food supplies from Medan stopped there to deliver food. The drivers spent the night at Bireuen before continuing the journey here.  

The trucks were escorted by the military and at night while they were parked at Bireuen, the military kept watch on the trucks while the drivers took a rest. 

Wardi Wahab, who was part of the convoy, said he was still a little afraid to drive along the road because there was no telling what they might run into. 

“But there are no buses so we must make this trip so that the people will get their supplies,” he said. 

Truck driver Samaan Hassan, who has been driving for 30 years, said the journey on Friday was peaceful although there was “some disturbances from the orang gunung (people who live in the mountain).” 

“But we did not have to pay any money at the posts this time,” he said. 

It has been a common practice for trucks and public vehicles to be stopped by groups of people at random posts who would demand money before letting the vehicles pass. Mini buses have to dish out about 5,000 rupiah (RM2.40) at each of the numerous stops while trucks had to pay about five to 10 times more.  

Due to the conflict and people’s reluctance to use the land route, drivers of the 4WD Kijang have been making money from journalists travelling around to assess the situation in the war-torn province. 

The drivers charge 550,000 rupiah (RM264) to 650,000 rupiah (RM312) excluding petrol each day to travel outside this town.  

They stick huge press stickers on the front and back windows of their cars for easy identification to prevent getting shot at mistakenly by the Indonesian army or GAM. 

The other option to leave here is by ferry and tickets for the thrice-weekly nine-hour boat journeys are fully booked.  

  • Another perspective from The Jakarta Post, a partner of Asia News Network. 

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