Wed, 14 May 2003

Democracy, not war, would limit GAM's influence

On May 9 The Jakarta Post held a panel discussion on Aceh with former Indonesian Military (TNI) general affairs chief Lt.Gen. (ret.) Suaidi Marassabessy, former state minister of human rights Hasballah M. Sa'ad, sociologist Otto Syamsuddin Ishak -- both Acehnese -- and military analyst Kusnanto Anggoro. After publishing the views of Suaidi and Hasballah on Monday and Tuesday, the Post is running the following two articles based on Otto's presentation:

Aceh's history of opposition once benefited Indonesia, when it was the Acehnese who accepted the emergency government of the republic in its fledgling years. They contributed to the government to enable it to operate and also helped to financially support the procurement of military equipment in the early days.

Indonesia, now a great country, can exploit Aceh's natural resources without its permission. It has generals far greater than Aceh's sons and daughters such as Teungku Cik Di Tiro and Cut Nyak Dhien. And it can decide anytime when to go to war with Aceh. People, meanwhile, have remained in a state of war since the time of their forefathers. The imminent war will contribute even more to the sense of their "Acehneseness".

After 1998, demands to settle human rights violations, efforts toward democracy and the special autonomy were aimed at returning dignity to the Acehnese; all these tested the seriousness (of the central government) yet (the demands) were not realized, hence the Acehnese remain in opposition to Jakarta.

So how can a military operation conquer their hearts and minds? With the Acehnese, you cannot engage in physical contact and only touch their hearts. Weapons can only take out their hearts ... All males in Aceh, from 14 years old upward, have experienced being slapped in the face by the military.

One must therefore differentiate between the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) and the rest of the people who are in opposition to Jakarta. Let the people's voices be heard, just help guard their rallies, in an effort to separate the people from GAM. Don't label them or they could really become GAM!

Thus, what is needed is to open up public space. Why was there no shooting when field offices of the Joint Security Committee (JSC) were destroyed while small rallies have been shot at? If people cannot channel their aspirations through nonviolent ways they will become radical.

If there is an opportunity to review the COHA, what could be done? Disputing parties should no longer be armed except at their posts; public space should be opened up and a direct election should be held as soon as possible. Investigation and legal process of human rights violations would actually be the main weapon to separate the people from GAM.

If once Aceh contributed capital for Indonesia's independence, all the above suggestions could also become a political asset for democratization. GAM should also be given a political concession as long as it is willing to continue negotiations, such as in the form of a political party.

Expanding the public's space, or democratization, not a military operation, would limit the space of GAM.