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Banda Aceh

Banda Aceh [previously known as Kutaradja, and variously called Bandar Aceh, Acheh, Achem, Acem, Atjeh, Kuta Raja] is the capital of Indonesia's Aceh province, and also the main gateway to the province. Baiturrahman Grand Mosque is the most out-standing landmark in the capital city. The old mosque was burnt down at the beginning of the Aceh War, and was rebuilt in 1875, taking its present shape after a number of renovations and expansions.

The monster waves, or tsunamis, that destroyed life and property December 26 in nine countries bordering the Indian Ocean resulted from a magnitude 9.0 earthquake centered off the west coast of northern Sumatra. The 9.0-magnitude earthquake hit at 6:58 am local time, and was centered 155 miles south-southeast of Banda Aceh. The streets in Banda Aceh were filled with overturned cars and rotting corpses. Shopping malls and office buildings lay in rubble, and thousands of homeless families huddled in mosques and schools.

Indonesia's vice president arned that the death toll from Sunday's earthquake could hit 25-thousand in Indonesia alone. The authorities are struggling to reach areas in the north of the island of Sumatra, near the quake epicenter. The quake and subsequent tsunamis may have killed nearly 40-thousand people in at least nine countries. Vice President Jusuf Kalla, who visited Banda Aceh, the devastated regional capital of Aceh province in northern Sumatra island, said he believed the toll from the quake could be between 21- and 25-thousand.

Violence in Aceh continued at high levels during the month of November 2000 and was most intense when Indonesian security forces attempted to halt the influx to Banda Aceh of participants in the second annual mass demonstration in support of a referendum on independence. The first such rally in November 1999, coming on the heels of the East Timorese vote to separate from Indonesia, brought hundreds of thousands of people onto the streets of the provincial capital and was certainly the moment when support for freedom of choice was highest among the Acehnese people. Approximately 50 civilians were killed outside of Banda Aceh in the days preceding the 2000 demonstration, contributing to a far smaller turnout than in 1999. It is unclear when and whether a meeting will be held to discuss extending the Humanitarian Pause beyond its expiration date in January.

US Embassy restrictions against official travel to Aceh remained in place throughout November 2000, though an exception was made for an assessment of emergency conditions following flooding in the northern and eastern lowland areas. An OTI staff member accompanied a representative of OFDA on a two-day visit to Banda Aceh at the end of November 2000.

UNDP had established a permanent programming presence in Banda Aceh and, in collaboration with the Joint Humanitarian Committee, developed a system whereby both organizations will review and approve proposals to be funded with the Humanitarian Assistance Trust Fund. This fund had a $426,000 donation from Norway.

By May 2001 UNDP closed its office in Banda Aceh at the request of the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. UNDP had completed disbursements of over $400,000 from the Humanitarian Pause Trust Fund.

The United States Agency for International Development Office of Transition Initiatives [OTI] continued its operational support for the Humanitarian Dialogue Center's (formerly the Henry Dunant Center) Banda Aceh-based Joint Committees, Monitoring Teams and Public Information Unit. The Joint Monitoring Teams were still restricted to their offices, but continued to receive and process incident reports from walk-in visitors. HDC also concentrated its efforts on building consensus for a high-level Joint Council meeting that was held in Geneva at the end of June 2001.

OTI also funded several grants focussed on human rights. One grant supported a visit by a group of lawyers from Aceh to Jakarta to meet with high-level national government officials, including the president, to lobby for more attention to the deplorable state of the judicial system in the province. The group argued specifically for the assignment of more judges and the provision of incentives to keep them working in Aceh. Another grant provided training for local journalists in Banda Aceh on the reporting of human rights cases, with a particular focus on the issues of protecting the identities of victims and witnesses.

OTI has had consultations with several key U.S. Senators, the State Department, and other USAID offices regarding security conditions that are limiting the kind of activities that OTI normally funds. These discussions led to a decision in late May 2001 to expand OTI's mandate in the province to include capacity-building for local NGOs. By the end of June 2001, OTI began grants to provide equipment and vehicles to thirteen Banda Aceh-based civil society groups. OTI intends to complement these grants with similar grants to NGOs in conflict areas outside of the provincial capital. Management and technical training grants will also be provided to these groups.

The police accused Tengku Don of involvement in the September 6, 2001 killing of Dayan Dawood, rector of Banda Aceh's Syiah Kuala University, who was shot after offering to mediate between the GAM and the Government. Tengku Don allegedly possessed one of the pistols used in the killing, and there were indications that the attack was criminally motivated.

In Aceh security forces routinely employed arbitrary arrest and detention without trial. On 16 July 2002, in Banda Aceh, local police took seven young members of the Acehnese Women's Democratic Organization (ORPAD) into custody following a rally in which they expressed antigovernment views. The police released six of the seven women a day later, but continued to hold Raihana Diani, who helped organize the rally, through the end of the year. The authorities charged her with insulting the President, a violation of Articles 134 and 137 of the Criminal Code.

On 01 December 2002, in Banda Aceh, a group of unidentified men kidnaped a 26-year-old human rights activist of the Coalition for West Aceh Students Movement (Kagempar). Three days later, villagers found his mutilated body face-down in the water underneath a bridge.




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