Sat, 26 Apr 2003

Dialog remains possible on Aceh, say scholars

Fabiola Desy Unidjaja, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The government and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) have come under mounting domestic pressure to reschedule the Joint Council meeting in a bid to keep the peace process in the troubled province intact.

Pointing out that the Acehnese had suffered greatly under a decade of military operations between 1988 and 1998, Muslim figures underlined that dialog remained feasible to end the conflict.

Muhammadiyah Chairman Syafii Maarif suggested on Friday that a new date for the Joint Council meeting be set, saying a military operation was not an option and that both sides should not dwell upon minor details in the peace talks.

"Dialog remains possible; I believe we can still work on it. Both sides should bear in mind that a military operation is not an option," Syafii told The Jakarta Post.

"I also urge GAM to be realistic and give up the idea of independence. Both parties should try to reschedule the meeting."

Muhammadiyah is the country's second largest Muslim organization and claims to have 30 million members.

Noted Muslim scholar Nurcholish Madjid also underlined that a military approach was an imperialistic measure and should be avoided.

"The use of military force will only hurt the Acehnese further. We should exploit the peace process for the sake of the people," he remarked.

A disagreement over the date of the meeting has caused the planned Joint Council meeting to falter. The meeting was to discuss the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement (COHA) signed in December last year.

Although both the government and GAM had agreed to hold the meeting in Geneva where the COHA was signed, GAM insisted on holding the meeting on Sunday, while the government had scheduled it for Friday after conceding to GAM's demand that the venue be moved from Tokyo to Geneva.

The Joint Council is the highest monitoring body of the peace deal signed by both parties on Dec. 9, 2002. The outcome of the meeting is expected determine the fate of the agreement as it may result in the government's unilateral withdrawal from the deal.

Chairman of the House of Representatives Commission I on security affairs Ibrahim Ambong expressed his regret at the cancellation of the meeting, but hoped it was not be the end of the peace pact.

He further urged the government not to rush into a military option and instead, continue to prioritize dialog measures.

"Rushing headlong into a military operation will further tarnish our international image; especially if it is conducted without thorough discussion in the government," Ibrahim said as quoted by Antara.

However, a dissenting opinion came from political analyst Indria Samego from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), who said that GAM had no good will and therefore, the government should not hold any further dialog with the rebel group.

"The government has tried to push for peace, but GAM lacks the goodwill to comply with the agreement," he said, adding that it would be a waste of time to pursue dialog with GAM.

Acehnese analyst Rosita Noer shared Indria's view, saying that as it was a separatist movement, GAM could not be placed on the same level as the government.

"There is no need to have a dialog overseas as GAM is part of Indonesia," she said.

Nurcholish does not dismiss the possibility of the use of military force to settle the Aceh conflict, but asserted that it should be pursued as a last resort, with limited and precise targets.

"The operation should not hurt the people of Aceh and should target only the separatist rebels," he said.