Wed, 07 May 2003

Acehnese councillors demand local role in saving peace pact

Kurniawan Hari and Tiarma Siboro, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Members of Aceh's provincial legislature demanded on Tuesday that the government involve them and community leaders in any discussions seeking a solution for the troubled province, instead of involving foreign peace brokers.

The councillors said they thought the Geneva-based Henry Dunant Centre (HDC) did not contribute to the peace process, despite the fact that it brokered a peace agreement between the Indonesian government and Free Aceh Movement (GAM) on Dec. 9 last year.

The speaker of the legislature, Tengku Muhammad Yus, expressed his regret that the government did not consult them or ask for their ideas on how to settle Aceh's problems.

"The government, the Aceh administration and the Aceh leaders have to sit down together to formulate an effective solution for Aceh's problems," Yus told the media after leading nine Aceh councillors to a hearing with People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) Speaker Amien Rais.

He said that instead of helping solve the Aceh conflict, the HDC had created more problems.

But he did not specify what problems had resulted from HDC's involvement in the dialog.

While blaming HDC for the slow peace process in Aceh, the Aceh councillors lashed out at local administrations in Aceh for their failure to familiarize the public with the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement (COHA) signed last December.

The incompetence of the local administrations have brought difficulties for Aceh's resolution, Yus said.

Amien shared the councillors' view, saying that the government should not ignore the aspirations of the Acehnese in deciding any policies for the province.

He suggested that the role of the HDC be replaced by a forum, representing the central government, the Acehnese and local administrations.

Amien added that it was high time for Indonesians to solve Aceh's problems themselves without getting foreign groups involved.

"The government will say farewell to the IMF, so it is high time to thank the HDC for its contributions," he added.

Separately, Ermaya Suradinata, the governor of the National Resilience Institute (Lemhannas), suggested that the government intensify its dialog with local people in Aceh and cut its relationship with the peace facilitators at the HDC on the grounds that the center had failed to bring peace to the conflict-torn Aceh province.

"What the government needs to do is create peace for the Acehnese instead of making peace with Aceh rebels. Because once we offer peace to the rebels, they will only make demands for freedom," Ermaya said on the sidelines of a seminar commemorating the institute's 38th anniversary on Tuesday.

"If the military option is the only choice, the government has to make every effort to protect its civilians and I think this (protecting civilians) is supposed to be the goal of the operations there," Ermaya said.

Hidayat Nurwahid, the chairman of the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), said that the government should hold a dialog with the Acehnese before deciding to launch a military operation in the province because "they have the right to decide their own fate".

"As for my concern, the decision to apply a military approach may create a lack of coordination on the ground between security personnel and local people. Therefore, the government should give civilians access to a dialog in which people can convey their views about a military operation," Hidayat said.

Hidayat also asked GAM rebels to realize that their attempts to separate from the unitary state of Indonesia were "unrealistic" and demanded that the rebels not use people as a human shield.

"Their (GAM) strategy of buying time has angered the government. If GAM is fighting for the sake of the prosperity of the Acehnese, then they should consider all the consequences that could result by delaying the dialog with the central government," Hidayat said.