Thu, 08 May 2003

Acehnese plead for peace

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

More Acehnese people expressed hope on Wednesday that the government would continue the peace process in the conflict-torn province, saying the use of military force would cause further casualties among civilians.

No less than 55 Acehnese people, including religious leaders and rights activists, continued their campaign in Jakarta to push the government to keep the peace process on track. They claimed to have raised the same demand with Free Aceh Movement (GAM) members.

The Aceh people reminded President Megawati Soekarnoputri of her pre-election commitment to avoid the use of violence in the province in addressing the 26-year conflict, saying it would only create fresh bloodshed and not peace.

The group originally came here to meet the President, but the head of state was "very busy with state duties". Instead they conveyed their demand to a number of foreign ambassadors here as well as to People's Consultative Assembly Speaker Amien Rais.

Among the envoys were Ambassador Ralph L. Boyce of the U.S. and Ambassador Yutaka Iimura of Japan. Also present were representatives from European Union and the World Bank. All the countries and organizations cochair the Tokyo Preparatory Meeting for Aceh Reconstruction and Rehabilitation.

Umam Hamid, a lecturer of the Banda Aceh-based Syiah Kuala University and the spokesman for the group, said that they wished the President would reconsider her decision to launch a military operation in the province and urged both warring parties to return to the negotiating table.

They feared that war in Aceh would create a "lost generation" among Acehnese children.

"Ibu Megawati had once promised that she would not allow any bloodshed in Aceh once she was elected President. We believe that she still carries that in her heart, and we are here to support her in the spirit of brotherhood," Umam said, referring to Megawati's political speech before her supporters on July, 28, 1999, weeks after her Indonesian Democratic Party for Struggle (PDI Perjuangan) won the largest vote in the 1999 general election.

Earlier in the day, the Acehnese leaders met Assembly Speaker Amien Rais to convey their message of peace.

Amien said that Aceh's problems must be resolved through peaceful dialog.

According to the representatives of the Acehnese people, the situation in the province has worsened. Hope for a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Aceh through the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement (COHA) is fading in the face of imminent warfare.

National Police chief Gen. Da'i Bachtiar meanwhile said on Wednesday that humanitarian aid, law enforcement, and empowerment of the local administration would also be carried out with the aim of restoring security in the troubled province.

He said that the three programs would be carried out integrally and simultaneously.

"If those three operations fail to restore security in Aceh, then an operation to restore security will be taken," Da'i said at a hearing with House of Representatives Commission I for defense and foreign affairs here.

Legislators had shown support for a contingency plan for Aceh should peace talks fail.

Separately, U.S. Ambassador Ralph L. Boyce expressed regret over the government's plan to launch a military operation in Aceh, but he underlined that the problem was a domestic one.

"We are very disturbed that the peace process may be breaking down. Military action is a last resort, and every possible venue must be exhausted before deciding on a military option," Boyce told a press conference on Wednesday.

"I do not think that anybody welcomes the possible renewed military activity in the province," he remarked.

He further underlined that Washington continued to lend support for the peace process in Aceh and was ready to facilitate any possible peace solution in the province, should they be asked to do so by Jakarta.

"The U.S. recognizes and respects that Aceh is a domestic issue of Indonesia, one in which I do not think Indonesia welcomes too much international involvement," Boyce said.

Regarding the continuation of the trust fund to rebuild Aceh, as was pledged in the Tokyo meeting last year, Boyce said that the commitment stands and would continue as soon as peace returns to the province.

"The commitment stands even with the problems along the way, we are ready to come back at an appropriate time," the ambassador said.