Wed, 30 Apr 2003

Avoid past mistakes if military option inevitabel

Sidney Jones, Indonesia Project Director, International Crisis Group, Jakarta

The government may have given Free Aceh Movement (GAM) an ultimatum on Monday to lay down its arms and accept autonomy or else, but in fact the "or else" has already begun. Both sides are mounting attacks, armed clashes are frequent, and there are no monitors in the field to document what's going on. The question is not whether military operations will begin in two weeks but whether those underway will be significantly increased.

GAM bears a significant share of the blame, though by no means all of it, for the unraveling of the Dec. 9 agreement. But International Crisis Group (ICG) has repeatedly warned that a military approach alone will not solve this conflict and indeed may strengthen support for GAM, especially if civilian casualties are high. There is a flicker of hope that negotiations will resume, but if, in the end, they collapse, it does not mean that the use of force will be any more successful in ending the rebellion.

At the same time, no government willingly tolerates a guerrilla movement on its soil. If the Megawati government cannot persuade GAM, through negotiation or co-optation, to abandon its armed struggle, the brakes on the military will come off.

In that case, the government will need to avoid repeating the mistakes it has made in the past in conducting security operations, if it is going to have any chance of rebuilding credibility and trust in Aceh.

Ten steps the government might consider are as follows:

* Publish rules of engagement.

Civilians, not just soldiers, should understand clearly what the rules of engagement are, and these should be published in the national and local media and disseminated as widely as possible through other means.

* Don't use Mobile Brigade (Brimob)

Over the last three years in Aceh, Brimob has developed an unenviable reputation for abusive behavior. Its members tend to be younger, with less training and experience, than soldiers, and their commanders appear to be unable to prevent their preying on civilians when they are not engaged in combat. A significant Brimob presence is likely not only to deepen resentment of the local population, but also to blur the distinction between the Army and police. The government should reconsider any plans to augment Indonesian Military (TNI) forces there with Brimob troops.

* Give neutral and impartial humanitarian organizations access to the injured, displaced, and detained and to areas where conflict has made it difficult for people to obtain basic goods and services.

* Keep conflict areas open to journalists and independent observers.

The standard practice for military operations in the past has been to shut down conflict areas tightly, making it difficult for journalists and independent observers to go in or for local people to get information out. The idea of "embedding" journalists has not taken root in Indonesia. Clearly there are security risks involved, but transparency should be encouraged wherever possible.

* Don't use civilian auxiliaries or militias. If military operations are launched, it should be fully uniformed and identifiable soldiers who do the fighting. Too often in the past, the military has made use of local civilians in an effort to avoid accountability or portray the conflict as tantamount to a civil war. Not only does this encourage abuse but it also creates long-term problems with post-conflict reconciliation.

* Keep conduct of military operations subject to regular and frequent review by civilians. Both the provincial parliament in Banda Aceh and the national parliament in Jakarta have a role here in having hearings that involve both government officials and respected civilians living in affected areas.

* Ensure that the budget and operating expenses for military operations are fully transparent. The lack of such openness in the past has led to suspicions of skimming and a belief that one side benefit of war is profit for some of those concerned. Such suspicions could be eased by a commitment to a thorough audit by a neutral accounting body of the costs of the operations.

* Protect human rights and humanitarian workers.

The TNI White Book has made clear that the military believes that separatists often try to use human rights organizations as a cover. If law enforcement officials in Aceh have reasonable grounds for suspecting an individual is engaged in a crime, they can arrest the suspect and make public the charges. But military operations must not become a pretext, as they too often have in the past, for the intimidation, arrest, or even occasionally, killing, of individuals trying to document rights violations or provide humanitarian assistance to affected populations.

* Prosecute violators of human rights and international humanitarian law.

There is no question that GAM is also responsible for serious abuses and has not effectively disciplined its own ranks. But as the Indonesian government contemplates launching intensified operations, it should make a clear commitment to investigate reports of human rights violations by security forces and prosecute where appropriate. The recent statement by the Army chief of staff that those responsible for Papua rebel Theys Eluay's murder were "heroes" does not inspire confidence.

* Root out corruption in the security forces. GAM apparently continues to get the majority of its weapons from corrupt sources within the TNI and police. The Indonesian government could make major strides toward demilitarization, not just in Aceh but elsewhere in Indonesia, by stepping up efforts to monitor inventories of weapons and ammunition and stem the leakage from military sources.

The Coordinating Minister for Politics and Security stressed on Monday that the government was undertaking a three-pronged strategy of humanitarian efforts, law enforcement, and improvement of local governance. Aceh would benefit from a focus on these areas. The problem in the past has been that whenever military force has been added to the mix, all other objectives have been swamped.