Mon, 05 May 2003

Acehnese move to save peace

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Some 50 Acehnese leaders are attempting to salvage the fragile peace in the province as the government deadline for Acehnese rebels to accept special autonomy and disarm draws near.

Ahmad Syafii Maarif, chairman of the country's second largest Muslim organization, Muhammadiyah, said over the weekend that about 50 public figures from Aceh had requested a meeting with President Megawati Soekarnoputri to discuss possible peaceful solutions to the problems in Aceh.

"It is not certain (that the meeting will be) accepted but we have sent a letter asking for a meeting with Ibu President," Syafii was quoted by Antara as saying on Saturday. He did not give the names of the Acehnese leaders.

The opportunity for a peaceful solution in Aceh has been fading fast, especially after the government issued an ultimatum last Monday giving the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) two weeks to accept special autonomy and to lay down its arms.

The ultimatum came just days after the government pulled out of a Joint Council meeting to discuss violations of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement brokered by the Swiss-based Henry Dunant Centre (HDC).

Under the agreement, the government and GAM agreed to end all hostilities. GAM, which has been fighting for independence in the resource-rich Aceh since 1976, also accepted special status for Aceh and agreed to lay down arms in stages.

The government, for its part, promised to halt all military operations and redeploy troops from offensive to defensive positions. Both sides, however, have failed to live up to the agreement.

The breakdown of the deal has put into question the HDC's ability to facilitate the peace process in Aceh, with some calling for some other party to take over the role of the non- governmental organization in Aceh.

There also have been an increasing number of voices calling for peace talks with GAM to be led by a civilian. Indonesia's side in the talks with GAM has been led by Coordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, a retired four-star Army general.

Syafii said over the weekend the 50 Acehnese leaders wanted to discuss with Megawati various possibilities in Aceh that would preclude the use of force to resolve the conflict in the province.

Syafii said his involvement in seeking a meeting with the President was a demonstration of his concern over the country's territorial integrity, adding that the dispute with GAM was not only a problem for Aceh but the entire country.

"Therefore, (the problems in Aceh) should be resolved wisely by the entire Indonesian nation, including Acehnese leaders who are clearly part of Aceh," Syafii said.

Meanwhile, analysts criticized on Sunday state officials who have blamed the HDC for the slow pace of the peace process in Aceh, saying such statements reflected a lack of understanding of the HDC's role in attempting to bring peace to the troubled province.

All of the analysts agreed that the HDC was a peace facilitator and had never pretended to take upon its shoulders the task of resolving the problems in Aceh.

"They do not understand the role of the HDC. Putting all the blame on the peace facilitator is too much," rights activist Munir told The Jakarta Post on Sunday.

Mawardi Ismail, a lecturer at Syahkuala University in Banda Aceh, agreed with Munir, saying that the success of any peace agreement between the government and GAM depended on the commitment of the two sides signing the pact.

"It is unfair to put the blame on the HDC," Mawardi told the Post.

Syamsuddin Haris of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences voiced a similar opinion, and suggested that state officials recognize the hard work the non-governmental organization has done rather than blaming it when the peace process did not go to their liking.

The analysts were commenting on remarks by some officials, including Vice President Hamzah Haz, People's Consultative Assembly Speaker Amien Rais and House of Representatives Deputy Speaker A.M. Fatwa, that the HDC could not be relied upon to resolve the Aceh issue.

Mawardi, an Acehnese intellectual, also called on the government to empower the Aceh provincial administration to take advantage of the relatively peaceful situation following the signing of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement.

He said the ineffectiveness of the agreement was partly due to a lack of initiative on the part of the local administration to use the agreement to jump-start development and rehabilitation programs in the province and to campaign for peace.

"We need a strong, credible and clean administration to use this peaceful period in Aceh to build on the people's trust," Mawardi said.