Wed, 12 Sep 2001

Drop draconian decree: Acehnese

JAKARTA (JP): The Acehnese people's call for the revocation of a presidential decree that was used to authorize a military operation in this restive province gets the cold shoulder from Jakarta.

Indonesian Military (TNI) Commander Adm. Widodo A.S. categorically rejected here on Tuesday the possibility of revoking the 2001 Presidential Decree No. 4 issued by former president Abdurrahman Wahid.

"We still need the presidential decree as the legal rationale to deal with the Aceh issue," Widodo said.

The decree, issued in April this year, lays down guidelines for political, security, economic, social and legal matters in the province, where the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) has been fighting for an independent state since 1976.

Jakarta's rejection came only three days after President Megawati Soekarnoputri pledged to seek a peaceful solution to the Aceh problem in her visit to the province.

"We must share a common perception that we will settle (the Aceh problem) without violence," she told a gathering of about 2,000 people in the grounds of Aceh's Baiturrahman Grand Mosque on Saturday.

Widodo said the TNI never used the decree to legitimize TNI'S repressive actions.

"So far we have implemented it according to procedures," he said and claimed that the government, under the coordinating minister for political and security affairs, continued to evaluate it.

About 1,200 people are believed to have been killed in Aceh this year alone.

Expressing a similar view, Minister of Defense Matori Abdul Jalil also rejected the demand for the revocation of the decree.

"The presidential decree will not be revoked but what is clear is that it will be improved," Matori was quoted as saying by AFP at Merdeka Palace on Tuesday.

Speaking after talks between Megawati and the head of Japan's defense agency, Gen. Nakatani, Matori said there would be greater stress on a nonviolent approach in Aceh.

"The political and security minister and his staff are currently evaluating measures that are needed to improve the decree," said Matori.

Matori said the government planned to resume peace talks with GAM but only for a settlement which rules out independence -- a goal which the rebels insist on.

In a related development, political analysts responded cautiously to the government's green light to permit European Union observers in Jakarta visit the restive provinces of Aceh and Irian Jaya.

"The European countries' desire to help the government solve problems related to Aceh and Irian Jaya is positive but their involvement should be kept outside the political domain," political researcher Mochtar Pabottingi was quoted as saying by Antara.

Riza Sihbudi, Mochtar's colleague from the National Institute of Sciences (LIPI), said he was afraid that the East Timor experience would be repeated in Aceh.

A EU union official who refused to be named said a team of 14 envoys planned to visit Aceh early next month and Irian Jaya in December.

They also planned to visit East Kalimantan early in November to help the government tackle the illegal logging problem in the province.

The envoys involvement in the mission would be restricted to activities which would "guard the integrity of the country," he told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday. (dja/tso/hbk)