Sat, 13 May 2000

Acehnese pray for lasting peace accord

BANDA ACEH, Aceh (JP): Thousands of Acehnese thronged mosques and schools on Friday to pray for the success of a peace accord being signed in Geneva between separatist rebels and the government.

The largest gathering involved over 100,000 people, who were seen attending continuous mass prayers since morning at Baiturrahman Grand Mosque here.

"We all hoping this works out. Please don't let the people down ... I cannot imagine what it would be like if the peace accord fails," Iqbal Faraby, chairman of the Aceh branch of the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM), said.

In schools throughout Banda Aceh, thousands of children prayed for an hour starting at 7:30 a.m. for an end to the years of violence.

Before he left for Switzerland to attend the signing ceremony, Aceh governor Syamsuddin Mahmud called for "quiet and peaceful" prayers to support the accord.

Separately, in a rare meeting with journalists, the Aceh Besar regional commander of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), Abu Tazurra, reaffirmed the group's commitment to withdraw forces from the field and refrain from violence.

Speaking from a rebel base camp hidden in the mountainous Seulawah area, some 60 kilometers east of Banda Aceh, Tazurra said that with the withdrawal GAM forces should no longer be held accountable for any trouble which might erupt.

However, he stressed that the signing of the accord should not be seen as a relinquishing of the groups determination for a free state.

"We will keep on fighting for independence, and in the meantime we wait for further instruction from Wali Negara (Hasan Tiro). Don't ever think that our spirit will die," Tazurra said.

"We want independence but not by sacrificing civilians. This pause is a good opportunity to achieve our goal through diplomatic channels."

"But we will fight if security forces launch repressive actions toward us," Tazurra, wearing military uniform, told journalists.

The situation at the base was calm and normal, with most of the rebels unarmed. Only after journalist asked to take photographs did they pull out their guns.(50/51/edt)