Tue, 05 Aug 2003

Aceh rebels rejects terrorism charges

Nani Farida, The Jakarta Post , Banda Aceh, Aceh

Former peace negotiators representing the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) rejected on Monday terrorism charges laid against them and asked all parties involved in the peace talks to be brought to court.

Teungku Muhammad Usman Lampoh Awe, in his defense, told the Banda Aceh District Court, that the accusation was baseless and irrelevant as it was linked to his and his colleagues' representation of the separatist group in negotiations with the Indonesian government.

"For the sake of justice, the charges must be dropped," Usman said.

Usman is one of five former GAM negotiators standing trial for alleged treason and acts of terror, which carry a death sentence.

Fellow defendant, Teungku Amni bin Ahmad Marzuki, demanded the negotiators be acquitted of all charges.

"As a negotiator, I just conducted a mission to restore peace, which had been agreed on by the two parties and the international community. Therefore I ask the judges to drop the case for the sake of justice," Amni said.

He said evidence presented by the prosecutors was not sufficient to build a case against him and other GAM negotiators.

"They are just excesses of the war that is now going on in Aceh," Amni said.

Usman demanded the court also try negotiators representing the Indonesian government and members of the Switzerland-based peace broker, the Henry Dunant Centre, if their participation in the peace talks was considered a crime.

"If serving as peace negotiators is a crime, all people involved in the peace process, including (former president) Gus Dur ... must stand trial," Usman said.

The peace process was initiated during the tenure of former president Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid in 2000. A six-month truce was reached last December, but was then broken in May this year after GAM rejected terms set by Jakarta for renewed peace talks.

The lawyer representing the defendants, Rufriadi of the Banda Aceh Legal Aid Institute, said the accusations were confusing as it mixed up terrorism and political crimes.

He said there was no solid proof of his clients' involvement in a series of murders, bomb attacks, abduction and other crimes between 2000 and 2003 as stated by the prosecutors.

The trial was adjourned to next week to hear the prosecutors' response to the defense argument.