Mon, 10 Feb 2003

Aceh enters crucial demilitarization phase

Nani Farida and Ibnu Matnoor, The Jakarta Post, Banda Aceh, Aceh

The restive province of Aceh took another step toward cementing a peace deal to end almost three decades of separatist fighting, with the start of the crucial demilitarization stage on Sunday.

The phase comes exactly two months after the government and the rebel Free Aceh Movement (GAM) signed a peace accord on Dec. 9 in Geneva to end 26 years of hostilities in the resource-rich province.

Under the landmark agreement, GAM will lay down its arms at designated sites and the Indonesian security forces will move back to their barracks, changing their role from a strike force to a defensive one. This phase will last five months.

However, violence continued one day before the demilitarization phase, as police officers from the elite Mobile Brigade (Brimob) shot two alleged rebels identified as Zakaria, 25, and Syukri Yusuf, 22, in the area of Krueng Mane in North Aceh regency.

The two alleged rebels, who were shot while riding on a motorcycle on Saturday, are being treated at the Cut Mutia Hospital in Lhokseumawe, the main town in North Aceh, GAM spokesman Teungku Sofyan Dawood said.

According to mechanisms agreed upon with the Henry Dunant Centre (HDC), the rebel group will store its weapons in at least 32 secret designated sites in eight regencies across Aceh.

"The placement sites are very secret and will be known only by the HDC," Teungku Kamaruzzaman, a GAM negotiator, told The Jakarta Post on Sunday.

He said that in the first stage, only 20 percent of GAM's arms would be laid down.

The Geneva-based HDC has brokered peace talks between the Indonesian government and GAM since 2000, including last year's truce. But previous cease-fires have always broken down.

Visiting HDC director Martin Griffiths said on Sunday that both parties had established "enough confidence" to begin the demilitarization process.

The two sides met on Saturday and agreed to start the demilitarization phase according to schedule on Sunday, he said.

They respectively presented their "concrete, specific" blueprints on how they are going to meet their obligations over the next five months, Griffiths said.

During the meeting, GAM pledged to store its arms in several phases at secret designated sites. The Indonesian government agreed to redeploy its forces and change the role of Brimob from an offensive force to a defensive one.

It is unclear whether the Indonesian government has agreed to allow the locations of GAM's stored weapons to remain secret, as the proposed mechanisms from both sides are still being discussed.

In a press release issued here on Sunday, the HDC said the details of the demilitarization phase would be fine-tuned in the coming days and weeks.

"Trust is the key, between both parties and the HDC," Griffiths said.

"GAM's got to trust that HDC will not reveal the placement locations. The Indonesian government must trust that HDC is carefully, accurately monitoring the placement," he said.

He said the HDC had the right to conduct "no notice" inspections of the arms sites to verify that GAM was complying with the agreement.

The demilitarization phase was one of the most contentious issues during the Geneva peace negotiations.

Coordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs Gen. (ret) Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono flew to Lhokseumawe over the weekend to take part in a dialog with local leaders, marking the start of Sunday's demilitarization.

Griffiths delayed a visit to Pidie district to meet with Susilo on Sunday in Lhokseumawe, to talk about demilitarization and the improving security situation over the last two months.

Susilo is scheduled to attend a similar dialog in the provincial capital of Banda Aceh on Monday.

The HDC has recorded only nine GAM deaths since the Dec. 9 signing of the truce, compared with a reported average of 102 a month last year.

Four security officers have been killed since the truce, compared with an average of 45 a month last year, while at least 24 civilians have died since Dec. 9, down from an average of 87 a month last year.

The Joint Security Committee (JSC), which is charged with monitoring the peace process, groups representatives from the Indonesian government and GAM, as well as foreign monitors, who represent the HDC and are led by a Thai general.