Fri, 24 Nov 2000

Emergency status for Aceh gets mixed response

JAKARTA (JP): The government's threat to impose a civil emergency status for restive Aceh has gained both full support and stiff opposition.

Secretary-general of the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) Asmara Nababan warned the government of complicity resulting from a decision to adopt a civil emergency status for the province, which saw gross human rights violations during a decade of military operations ending in 1998.

"I am concerned and disappointed with the plan because it would only give the government legitimacy to take repressive measures in addressing problems in Aceh," Asmara told The Jakarta Post by phone from Surabaya.

He said an emergency status "would result in new problems and claim more lives rather than reach a settlement".

The province, where the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) separatist rebels have been fighting for independence from Indonesia for 20 years, has continued to be the scene of violence despite a truce signed in May and extended in November.

"Furthermore, the emergency status would alienate Acehnese from their brothers across the country," he said.

Asmara warned decisionmakers in the government that they risked being charged with perpetrating rights abuses now that the Human Rights Law was in effect.

His notice came amid calls from the United Nations experts on Indonesia to probe allegations of human rights violations in Aceh, including alleged extrajudicial executions of civilians.

In a letter dated Nov. 22 to the Jakarta government, five human rights representatives who are working for the UN Commission on Human Rights said they had received information on a pattern of serious human rights violations targeting human rights defenders in the province.

They highlighted alleged extrajudicial executions of numerous civilians, especially human rights activists and pro-independence activists, and alleged acts of torture, including sexual violence, by the military and security forces against civilians.

Prominent social and political observers shared the belief that the state of emergency would only rub salt in the wounds of Acehnese.

"If either a civilian or military emergency is imposed in Aceh, it would be the same as the previous implementation of the military operation (DOM) and I'm afraid that it would culminate in a point of no return for Aceh," Bahtiar Effendy, a doctor of politics at Ohio University, said after a discussion on ethno- religious conflict here.

"In such an emergency situation, which naturally involves repressive measures, people might be incited to fight the state and we would probably lose Aceh for good."

President Abdurrahman Wahid and Vice President Megawati Soekarnoputri along with related Cabinet ministers should visit Aceh soon, Bahtiar and sociologist Sardjono Djatiman of the University of Indonesia, said.

"Abdurrahman is a kyai. He should be able to win people's hearts. So go on and try. The Acehnese basically wish to be treated as humans. Don't just send ministers who act as if nothing happens out there," Sardjono said.

"What the Acehnese need are concrete improvements and changes for a better life. The government must fulfill their promises to compensate the victims of violence and let's hope that Aceh doesn't have to again experience the nightmare of an emergency state."

In Yogyakarta, rector of Gadjah Mada University Ichlasul Amal suggested that the government avoid the use of coercion in addressing the separatist movement in Aceh, saying that such a militaristic approach had proven fruitless.

Amal said the government had no choice but to maintain peace.

"A peaceful way is the only choice for the government, for we are not going to either destroy or defeat the Acehnese or the separatists there," he said.

Amal said the government should drastically reduce its dominant role in solving the Aceh problem and let the Acehnese, the pro-Jakarta groups and proindependence groups settle their dispute.

On the contrary, the House of Representatives urged the government on Thursday to declare by Sunday at the latest a civil emergency status in Aceh to fight armed separatism in the natural resource rich province.

"We hope the emergency can be announced as soon as possible, at least before the beginning of the Ramadhan fasting month," chairman of House Commission I for defense, foreign and political affairs Yasril Ananta Baharuddin said.

Yasril said the emergency law should be intended for GAM and the Information Center for Aceh People (SIRA).

Speaking at a joint news conference with the chairman of House Commission II for home and legal affairs, Amin Aryoso, Yasril viewed that GAM and SIRA should be declared rebels.

"If the civil emergency can not decrease the tension in a month, it could be elevated to military emergency status," Yasril of Golkar Party said.

He suggested the government apply Law 23/1959 on an emergency state to take stern action against the two rebellious groups.

But for the majority of Acehnese, Yasril proposed that the government conduct a dialog and offer special autonomy for the province soon. (01/44/edt/jun)