Thu, 23 Nov 2000

Emergency status mulled for Aceh

JAKARTA (JP): The government is considering adopting a civil emergency status to address the long-standing violence in Aceh, Coordinating Minister for Politics, Social and Security Affairs Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said on Wednesday.

Speaking after a meeting with Vice President Megawati Soekarnoputri, Susilo said the emergency status would serve as a warning to the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) separatist rebels who the government has blamed for perpetrating violence despite the truce arrangement under the humanitarian pause, which is in effect until mid-January next year.

"If the alternatives proposed are rejected, the government will adopt legal measures and deem it necessary to impose an emergency status, although it's not an ideal thing to do," Yudhoyono said.

However, he said the government was still optimistic that it could end the fighting through negotiations.

"A state of emergency is a last resort, which we hope will not have to be taken," said Yudhoyono, a retired army general.

Since the truce came into effect in June, more than 240 people have been killed in restive Aceh.

Based on Law No. 23/1959, which remains in effect as the newer law passed by the House of Representatives in 1998 has not been ratified yet, the civil emergency status would be declared through a presidential decree.

The government of Abdurrahman Wahid imposed an emergency status in Maluku and North Maluku in late June to address months of sectarian conflict there.

Abdurrahman has repeatedly pledged to keep the country's unity.

A coordination forum of ministers under Susilo's auspices suggested on Tuesday that the government should get tough against separatist movements in the natural resource-rich provinces of Aceh and Irian Jaya.

Among the attendees at Tuesday night's meeting were Minister of Defense Muhammad Mahfud MD, Minister of Foreign Affairs Alwi Shihab, Minister of Home Affairs and Regional Autonomy Surjadi Sudirdja, Indonesian Military chief Adm. Widodo AS, Attorney General Marzuki Darusman and Chief of State Intelligence Coordinating Board (Bakin) Arie J. Kumaat.

The meeting also assigned Widodo, accompanied by Air Force Chief of Staff Marshal Hanafie Asnan, to visit Aceh on Thursday.

Yudhoyono gave no details of the consequences of a declaration of emergency. However, under past states of emergency in Aceh, security forces have been given extra power to search for and arrest suspects and impose curfews.

Rebels belonging to the Free Aceh Movement have been fighting for independence in their oil and gas-rich homeland for about 25 years, leaving at least 5,500 people dead in the past decade.

Susilo also warned the popular Aceh proindependence group, the Information Center for an Aceh Referendum (SIRA), about mobilizing people against the government.

SIRA earlier this month mobilized hundreds of thousands of people during a two-day rally organized to demand a referendum on self-determination for the strongly Muslim region on the northern tip of Sumatra.

They marked the anniversary of last year's first public call for a vote on self-rule, which was attended by almost a million people.

Susilo reiterated on Wednesday his warning to separatist leaders in the easternmost province of Irian Jaya that a declaration of independence, which is expected to highlight the celebration of the 39th anniversary of their declaration of independence on Dec. 1, would be treason.

He said he had heard reports that Free Papua (OPM) separatists planned to celebrate the commemoration.

"If that takes place, it will be considered an act of treason and the government will take stern action in line with the Constitution," he said.

Independence sentiments were nurtured for similar reasons in Irian Jaya but only surfaced strongly following the end of the rule of former president Soeharto in 1998.

Separatists there claim that Irian Jaya declared independence on Dec. 1, 1961 before the former Dutch colony became a part of Indonesia under a UN-sanctioned act of free choice in 1969 that Irianese say was flawed.

At a congress held by the proindependence Papua Council in June, the delegates called on Jakarta to recognize the 1961 declaration.

The separatist movements in Indonesia have gained momentum following East Timor's split from Indonesia last year.