Fri, 12 May 2000

Acehenese put high hopes on Geneva accord

BANDA ACEH, Aceh (JP): Weary of the incessant conflicts that have claimed countless lives, the Acehnese expressed high hopes of a planned peace agreement to be signed in Geneva.

Ulemas, politicians, rights activist, students, government officials, ordinary people and even members of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) separatist group all hailed the planned Joint Understanding which potentially brings a flicker of hope for peace to return to their lives.

"We always say prayers together in a group every night, in the hope that the Geneva peace accord can be signed. We read the Koran or other holy verses. We want no more violence. We don't want to see more people killed. We want peace," said Tengku Muhammad Amin, a ulema, who leads the Darul Kamaliah Keumala Muslim boarding school in Pidie.

A student from the Islamic Teaching Institute in Banda Aceh, Lailatussaadah, welcomed the planned joint understanding.

"After the peace pact, we hope a referendum will be held to determine the province's future, as recommended by the Aceh People's Mass Meeting on Nov. 8 last year," she said.

Chief of the Aceh office of the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) Iqbal Faraby welcomed the latest breakthrough but warned that certain armed groups could try to undermine it by creating chaos.

"These groups do not wish peace to return to Aceh. So far, the government has been unable to control them. There is also no guarantee that GAM rebels will sincerely put their guns down," Iqbal said.

Another rights activist, Ahmad Humam Hamid, said the peace accord was only the beginning of a long process of determining Aceh's fate.

"I urge the people to use the three-month period recommended by the Geneva deal to restore social and economic activities," he said.

"The local administration must prepare for the handling of refugees and schooling, as well as agriculture and business activities that have been halted since the conflict rocked this province," said Ahmad, who is the coordinator of Human Rights Care Forum in Aceh.

The head of the United Development Party's (PPP) branch in Pidie, Tengku Yusri Ahmad, called on his political colleagues in the province to put their full weight behind the accord.

"The goodwill shown by the Indonesian government and GAM should be welcomed by all layers of society. I hope all members of PPP will support the agreement," he said.

Senior GAM leaders in the Aceh woodlands also welcomed the deal and pledged to honor it.

"The commander of GAM's armed wing, Tengku Abdullah Syafiie, has instructed all GAM troops to return to their 'barracks' and put their guns down," GAM spokesman Tengku Maad Muda said.

"This means that no more armed GAM troops will be roaming about. Every party must be extra careful as groups of provocateurs who want to disrupt tranquility in Aceh will still be around," he said, adding that "GAM members have been told to pray."


Meanwhile, Commander of Indonesia's Teuku Umar Military Command in Aceh Col. Syarifuddin Tippe has urged people to have faith in the agreement.

"The most important thing is that there will be no more killings. If we continue to be suspicious of each other and all parties involved are unable to restrain themselves, then don't expect peace to return to Aceh," he said in a provincial coordination meeting in Tapak Tuan, South Aceh.

Aceh Governor Syamsuddin Mahmud said that basically everyone wanted the new accord to be signed as the fighting was doing no one any good.

"We're all tired of fighting. I think the security forces and also GAM are fed up with the conflict too. So let's hope for the best," he said on Wednesday.

The governor and Aceh Provincial Council Speaker Muhammad Yus departed to attend the signing ceremony of the Joint Understanding in Switzerland on Wednesday evening.

Peace in Aceh also means a lot to Hasballah Jelas, a 50-year- old food stall owner from Cot Paya village, Darussalam district in Aceh Besar.

"I just want to sell my coffee until late at night with no fear. Since the bloody conflict first took place I have had to open my kiosk during the day," Hasballah said.

Hasballah said that he knew his namesake, State Minister of Human Rights Affairs Hasballah M. Saad, well, as he once served him at a food stall at Syiah Kuala University, where the minister worked as a lecturer.

"I believe he (the minister) will do his best for the people of Aceh," the vendor said. (50/51/prb/edt/sur)