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DATE=11/17/1999 TYPE=BACKGROUND REPORT TITLE=ACEH SEPARATISM NUMBER=5-44777 BYLINE=PATRICIA NUNAN DATELINE=BANDA ACEH CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: In Indonesia's northern Aceh province, pressure is mounting for a vote on independence, similar to the referendum last August that led to self-rule for East Timor. Patricia Nunan visited the provincial capital, Banda Aceh and reports independence sentiment is deep and widespread. TEXT: ///ACT -- BACKGROUND TALKING/ NOISE.IN FULL FADE UNDER AND OUT /// The office of the student wing of the Aceh Referendum Information Center is an unfurnished room in a house in the suburban neighborhood of Banda Aceh. A dozen or so supporters sit cross-legged on the linoleum floor, beneath two portraits of an Acehnese separatist leaders from the 1800's. They chat and wait for their leader to arrive. Mohammed Nazar is the chairman of the Aceh Referendum Information Center -- or SIRA as it is known. SIRA was formed last February in response to what Mr. Nazar says are growing demands in Aceh for the right to self-determination. He says the issue deserves more international attention. /// NAZAR ACT /// The Aceh case is not only a local and national problem, but an international or global case that must be paid attention to by any international parties and communities. ///END ACT /// The moment Mr. Nazar has been waiting for may now have arrived. "Referendum fever" has swept Aceh in the month since the Indonesian government granted independence to East Timor, after a ballot supervised by the United Nations. Even the word "referendum" is everywhere: banners stretch across the front of marketplaces and bus-stops, the world is painted in two-meter tall block letters on the roads. What were once blank walls on the sides of buildings now serve as canvases for pro-referendum murals. The reasons behind the push for independence are both economic and political. The Acehnese want a greater share of the profit derived from the province's natural gas and oil deposits. They also want an end to the terror they say has been inflicted on them by the Indonesian military, which has occupied the province for the past 10 years. /// ACT CALL TO PRAYER - IN FULL, FADE DOWN /// Community leaders say about seven thousand refugees live in shacks built on the grounds of the Abu Daud Brue-eh mosque in the town of Sigli, 90 kilometers east of the provincial capital. /// ACT VOX-POP - SPEAKING INDONESIAN, IN FULL, THEN UNDER /// One refugee says they have been here for two months because they do not like what the army is doing. He says they want the army to withdraw to Java, the province where the capital Jakarta is located. They have no right, he adds, to act like this in "our country." /// ACT VOX-POP - SPEAKING INDONESIAN, IN FULL, THEN UNDER /// This woman refugee says she and others are here because they were afraid some soldiers would rape or torture them. The 'Free Aceh Movement', she says, asked them to come here to be safe. The guerilla "Free Aceh Movement" declared an independent Islamic state in 1976 -- which was never recognized by the Indonesian government or the international community. But the group has gained greater support across Aceh, since the Indonesian military crackdown. Human rights groups say at least two thousand people have died or disappeared at the hands of the Indonesian military. Some local non- government organizations put the number in the tens of thousands. Rebel commander Teungku Abdullah Syafei has recently begun an apparent public relations drive, meeting with dozens of journalists in the past several weeks. /// ACT SYAFEI SPEAKING INDONESIAN /// Mr. Syafei says the future for Indonesia is disintegration, because those who call themselves Indonesian will want to free themselves from what he calls "the shackles of Javanese repression." The tide may be changing in Aceh sooner than expected, with the announcement by Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid that a referendum can be held in about seven months. That plan is sure to cost the president some popularity with several officials in the Indonesian government, who believe that keeping Aceh a part of Indonesia is crucial to preventing the break-up of the nation. But that is of little concern to the Acehnese -- who say they are willing to stake their future on an independent homeland. NEB/PN/FC/JO 17-Nov-1999 01:25 AM EDT (17-Nov-1999 0625 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .

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